Last December, the New York Giants dismissed Head Coach Pat Shurmur after two seasons in which the team compiled a 9-23 overall record. The 2020 Giants are off to a slow start under new Head Coach Joe Judge, which can often happen after a regime change. A narrow loss to division rival Philadelphia on Thursday night in Week Seven dropped New York to 1-6 on the season, though that is still just one win behind the rest of the teams in the downtrodden NFC East.
The Giants did get their first win two weeks ago in a another intra-division contest, taking a one-point decision at home against the Washington Football Team. Four of their six losses have been by a single score, but other than a 37-34 shootout against Dallas, the Giants have had difficulty scoring points, ranking 31st with 17.4 per game. That is almost exactly two touchdowns per game fewer than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' average of 31.7.
Quarterback Daniel Jones, who beat the Buccaneers last season in Week Three in his first career start, showed serious promise as a rookie after being drafted sixth overall, most notably in his 24 touchdown passes against 12 interceptions. Jones has experienced some growing pains in his second year, with a TD-INT ratio of 5-7 and a 73.7 passer rating, but still appears to be the Giants' long-term answer at the position. And while his unfortunate trip at the end of an 80-yard run last Thursday has led to some merriment, that play still showed off the difference he can make with his feet. With star running back Saquon Barkley out for the year with a knee injury, Jones is currently the team's leading rusher with 296 yards. Among NFL quarterbacks, only Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson have more rushing yards this year.
The loss of Barkley after just two games is a serious blow to the Giants offense, as the former second-overall pick was responsible for nearly 3,500 yards from scrimmage as well as 23 touchdowns in his first 29 NFL games. The Giants responded by signing free agent Devonta Freeman, who has added 230 yards in the five games since Barkley's injury, and holdover Wayne Gallman has also contributed and is averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Jones's favorite targets in the passing attack are wide receiver Darius Slayton and tight end Evan Engram, who have 48 and 44 targets, respectively. More on them below. Veteran wideout Golden Tate can be a big-time producer out of the slot though he's only had two catches the last two weeks combined.
The Giants' defense has seen more success than the offense so far in 2020. The pass rush has had a good inside-outside combination with defensive tackle Leonard Williams and outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell. Inside linebacker Blake Martinez, like Fackrell a free agent signee from the Packers this offseason, is a tackling machine, just as he was in Green Bay, and is second in the NFL with 73 tackles. He's helped the Giants hold opposing rushers to 3.7 yards per carry, fifth-best in the league. New York imported a new pair of defensive backs on the opening market, grabbing James Bradberry from the Panthers early and then much later adding former Titan slot corner Logan Ryan, who is now starting at safety but lining up all over the field.
The results have been middle-of-the-pack rankings in most defensive categories, including total yards, yards per play and, most importantly, points allowed, as the Giants currently have the 14th-best scoring defense. They have allowed 24.9 points per game, in part due to very good red zone results. Kicker Graham Gano, another former Panther, has been close to perfect and safety Jabrill Peppers gives the Giants a spark in the punt return game, averaging 12.8 yards per runback.
The Giants recently traded outside linebacker Markus Golden back to his original team, the Cardinals, which could look like the beginning of the team turning its attention to the future, but they still have a shot in the depressed NFC East and have a quarterback who showed as a rookie that he could get hot for stretches. Here's a closer look at some of the challenges and opportunities the Bucs will encounter when they share the Monday Night Football spotlight with the Giants in Week Eight:
Jones will make the biggest difference in how the Giants' season unfolds with how much he either finds a groove or continues to struggle in the second half. If Devonta Freeman could recapture his form from his 2015-16 Pro Bowl seasons in Atlanta the New York ground game could give Jones some much-needed assistance. The Giants would also like to see rookie left tackle Andrew Thomas, the fourth-overall pick in the 2020 draft, get past some understandable early struggles and turn into the force they expect him to be up front. On defense, Ryan is a chess piece the Giants can move all over the board. Up front, New York has three potential stars in Williams, the seriously-underrated Dalvin Tomlinson and 2019 first-round pick Dexter Lawrence. In addition to those players, here are four other Las Vegas players who could make things difficult for the Buccaneers on Sunday night:
1. WR Darius Slayton. Slayton looked like a fifth-round steal last year after he contributed 48 catches for 740 yards and eight touchdowns in 14 games as a rookie in 2019. Now Slayton looks like the favorite target of his 2019 draft mate, Daniel Jones. Slayton leads the Giants in targets (48), receptions (27), receiving yards (429) and touchdown catches (3) and he's averaging 15.9 yards per catch. When Jones hit Slayton on a 23-yard touchdown pass against Washington in Week Six it was already the fifth time since those two joined the Giants that they have hooked up for a score on a go-route by Slayton. Despite running a 4.39 40-yard dash and posting a vertical leap of 40 inches at the 2019 Scouting Combine, Slayton slid in the draft over concerns about his rudimentary route-running skills and shaky hands. Either that scouting report was far off the mark or Slayton has put in a lot of work – probably a little bit of both – because those have both been areas of strength for him in the NFL. Slayton lines up primarily on the outside and, with Sterling Shepard just back from I.R., the Giants can pose a significant threat to cornerbacks Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean.
2. DL Leonard Williams. The Giants gave the Jets third and fifth-round picks at the trade deadline last year to get Williams, who was the sixth-overall pick in 2015. New York then franchise-tagged the former USC standout in order to keep him around in 2020, and that has paid off well in the first half of the season. Williams is tied with Kyler Fackrell for the team lead with 3.0 sacks and has a team-best seven quarterback hits, and he's been credited with 21 pressures overall, or three per game. The 6-5, 302-pound Williams has also been a force in the run game, with 20 of his 25 tackles coming on running plays. At 26, Williams still has the athleticism and quickness that made him such a high pick five years ago and he's given the Giants consistent week-to-week play this season. He's regarded as an above-average run defender and he can penetrate the backfield multiple times during a game. The main thing missing from Williams' resume is a large number of sacks; he has 20.5 of them through five-plus seasons and 86 games. That has largely been a matter of coming close without the payoff on a number of occasions, as he has had a high ratio of QB pressures to sacks throughout his career.
3. TE Evan Engram. Engram's numbers are down noticeably in his fourth season. After averaging 52 receiving yards per game and scoring 12 touchdowns in his first three seasons he is averaging 31.9 yards per game in 2020 and has yet to find the end zone. Perhaps most surprising is his average of 8.6 yards per reception, down roughly three yards from his average over his first three campaigns. All of that said, Engram remains a player the Buccaneers' defense must account for, given his speed and athleticism. Engram reached a top speed of over 20 miles per hour on four different plays with the ball in his hands last year, the most by any team in the NFL. In some ways, the 6-3, 240-pound Engram is just a very large receiver; he has only lined up tight with the offensive line on 37% of his snaps this year, as compared to 47% in the slot and 14% split wide. Engram's main hurdle during his first three seasons was staying healthy, as he missed a total of 14 games from 2017-19. He has played in all seven games this season, however. It's likely that the Giants' overall offensive struggles, including a front line that has allowed 20 sacks of Jones, has contributed to Engram's declining numbers in 2020 but he remains a threat to have a big game on any given Sunday…or Monday in this case.
4. CB James Bradberry. This is one offseason acquisition that has really worked out well for Giants G.M. Dave Gettleman, who drafted Bradberry in the second round during his time as the Panthers general manager. Bradberry leads the NFL with 11 passes defensed and has three of the Giants' five interceptions on the season. Opposing quarterbacks have compiled a passer rating of 62.7 when throwing in his direction, and when those passes are caught they've been limited to 10.7 yards per grab. The 6-1, 212-pound Bradberry has great size and length for the cornerback position and he can match up with the league's biggest receivers. That's something he showed over four seasons and numerous battles with the Buccaneers' Mike Evans while playing for the Panthers. Bradberry has played more snaps at left cornerback for the Giants this season but also has seen plenty of action on the right side, suggesting that New York sometimes uses him to shadow the opposition's top receiver.
As noted above, the Giants' defense has been strong in the red zone, ranking ninth in opposing touchdown percentage at 53.3%. New York's run defense is also in the top 10, as is its rate of sacks per pass play. The New York offense is averaging 4.5 yards per carry, good for 13th in the NFL, despite not having Saquon Barkley since Week Two. Here are some more specific areas in which the Giants have done well so far in 2020:
· New York's defense has generated 18 sacks, which is tied for eighth-most in the NFL, while it's sacks-per-pass-attempt rate of 7.32% ranks 10th. The Giants have done it as a group effort, as 12 different players have combined to record those 18 sacks. The interior duo of Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence are responsible for five of those QB takedowns.
· Joe Judge's team has played a disciplined form of football, at least in terms of drawing penalties. The Giants have been flagged 37 times for 256 yards, and that penalty yardage total is the ninth-lowest in the NFL. New York's talented secondary has combined to draw just one defensive pass-interference call in 2020, and that one was only for nine yards.
· In his first year with the Giants, long-time Panthers kicker Graham Gano has been sharp. He has made all but one of his 16 field goal tries, with that missing coming from beyond 50 yards, and he has also made four other attempts from 50 or farther. Gano is also perfect on nine extra point attempts.
· The Giants' good red zone work on defense has had a lot to do with how well they've gotten after the passer and defended the pass in that compressed part of the field. Four of the Giants' 18 sacks have come on plays where the opposition snapped the ball in the red zone, and that's just one behind Arizona for the NFL lead in that category. In addition, opposing passers are only completing 50.0% of their passes on red zone plays, which has New York tied for the seventh-best mark in the league. The Giants also rank third in the league in touchdown percentage on goal-to-go, allowing TDs on just 61.5% of opposing drives.
New York's offense has generated the second-fewest yards and the second-fewest points in the NFL so far this season and it ranks 30th in passing and 27th in rushing. The Giants' defense has had some trouble getting off the field on third downs, allowing a 50.5% conversion rate that is fifth-worst in the league. In addition:
· New York's offense has yet to mount a successful two-minute drill at the end of either half this season. The Giants have zero points through their two-minute offense this year, one of only three teams yet to score in that situation. The average number of points on two-minute drills in the NFL is 10.4.
· The Giants' defense ranks 21st in pass defense (251.3 yards allowed per game) and has been susceptible to deep balls in two of the three downfield zones. On deep passes down the middle, the Giants rank 25th in average yards allowed per attempt (16.8) and 29th in completion percentage allowed (77.8%). On deep passes down the right side, the Giants rank 30th in average yards allowed per attempt (17.9) and 30th in completion percentage allowed (62.5%).
· As good as the New York defense has been inside the 20, the Giants' offense has struggled significantly in the red zone. The Giants have taken 18 drives into the opposing red zone but only come away with touchdowns on six of them. That TD percentage of 33.3% is only better than one team, as the New York Jets are at 25.0%.
· The Giants negative-four turnover ratio and difficulties in third-down defense have put the team behind the eight ball in terms of time of possession. New York has averaged 27 minutes and 39 seconds of possession time through the first seven games, which is the third-worst in the NFL, better only than the Jets and the Texans.
NEW FACES IN 2020
The Raiders were active on the free agent market in the spring, most notably in regards to their defense, where they brought in three new starters and a couple other reserves in Carl Nassib and Raekwon McMillon. The Raiders then used three draft picks on wide receivers, although one of them (third-rounder Lynn Bowden) has since been traded to the Miami Dolphins. Here are some notable newcomers in Las Vegas.
1. OTs Andrew Thomas/Cameron Fleming/Matt Peart. Three players have started at the two tackle spots for the Giants this year and they're all new to the team in 2020. Thomas and Peart were first and third-round draft picks, respectively, and Thomas was inserted at left tackle from Day One. Judge started Peart in Thomas's place in the Week Six win over Washington due to Thomas being late to a meeting but the first-rounder did later return to the game. Fleming came over as an unrestricted free agent from Dallas in March. He had 26 starts over six previous NFL seasons but his seven starts in 2020 are already a single-season high for him.
2. S Logan Ryan. Ryan recorded four interceptions, 18 passes defensed and 113 tackles for the Titans in 2019 but Tennessee did not try to re-sign him in free agency and he went into September without having signed elsewhere. The Giants' long-rumored interest came to fruition eight days before the team's 2020 opener but he has started the last six games at free safety. While he was a free agent, Ryan made it clear that he viewed himself as a safety and not a slot corner, but the main point is that he was versatile enough to play all over the field. The Giants agreed and have indeed moved him around liberally. He is second on the team with 43 tackles and also has a sack, three quarterback hits and five passes defensed.
3. RBs Dion Lewis/Devonta Freeman. The Giants moved a little quicker to get another former Titan, signing Dion Lewis on April 1. Freeman only came aboard a month ago after the Falcons released him in March and he failed to drum up much interest in free agency. The Giants brought him in after Saquon Barkley was lost for the season and he's since rushed 54 times for 172 yards while catching seven passes for 58 yards. Lewis has only taken 16 handoffs, for 54 yards and a touchdown, but he's also caught 10 passes for another 65 yards.
1. RB Saquon Barkley. As we've already noted several times above, Barkley's third NFL season didn't last long after he sustained a torn ACL just eight plays into the Giants' Week Two game at Chicago. Coincidentally, Barkley missed a month last year after he suffered a high-ankle sprain in New York's Week Three win in Tampa. When healthy, Barkley is one of the most dynamic and powerful backs in the NFL and his absence is a tough one for a scuffling team.
2. S Xavier McKinney. After grabbing Georgia tackle Andrew Thomas fourth overall in this year's draft, the Giants nabbed Alabama safety Xavier McKinney four picks into the second round and expected him to step right into the starting lineup. That timetable was delayed by a training camp foot injury that required surgery, which was the impetus for the Giants pulling the trigger on the Logan Ryan signing. McKinney is on injured reserve and isn't likely to return until a little later in November.
3. OLB Markus Golden. Golden played in the Giants' first seven games, making one start and recording 1.5 sacks and six QB hits, but he won't play in New York's eighth contest because he's now an Arizona Cardinal. Again. The Giants signed Golden as an unrestricted free agent from Arizona last year and it proved to be a good move as he racked up 10.0 sacks and 27 quarterback hits. However, the Giants traded him back to his original team on Saturday.