Coming off the Week 1 loss to the Jaguars, Giants.com writers give one area of encouragement and one area of improvement for the team moving forward.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Let’s start with the good: offensive design. I liked what I saw from the Giants’ offensive scheme in their first game under coach Pat Shurmur and offensive coordinator Mike Shula. There were a lot of unique formations with receivers lined up in different places depending on the play.
Once the ball was snapped, the route combinations were put together nicely to get players isolated in mismatches and get the Giants’ best players the ball in space. Finally, the offense was far more vertical than it has been the past couple of seasons. Even though they often failed to connect, Eli Manning was not shy about airing the ball out down the field to make some big plays. The execution has to be better all around, but the design is there for this offense to be very successful.
I’m up first, so I might as well address the elephant in the room: the offensive line. There were simply far too many defenders in the backfield on both pass and running plays. The Giants’ final run numbers looked good (23 carries, 114 yards, 5.0 YPC), but those numbers were skewed by Saquon Barkley’s 68-yard touchdown run. Putting that aside, the team only ran for 46 yards on 22 carries. In the passing game, Eli Manning was sacked just two times but faced constant pressure that adversely affected his accuracy on some passes that could have turned into big plays. Pressure led directly to his one interception. More penetration came from the right side of the line than the left, but there were issues on different plays with everyone up front.
For this offense to become a top unit in the league, the line must be more consistent. The Jaguars feature one of the best fronts in the league, so it would be foolish to overreact to one week, but a better performance in a noisy environment in Dallas is a must.
DAN SALOMONE: If you hold the Jaguars’ defense to last year’s standard, you have to do the same for their offense. People probably didn’t realize that Jacksonville was a top-five scoring team, averaging 26.1 points per game in 2017. The Giants, in their first game under defensive coordinator James Bettcher, held the defending AFC South champion to 20 points, 13 when you take away Myles Jack’s interception return for touchdown. Sure, they would like to take back the Danny Etling-esque run by Blake Bortles and didn’t have to see Leonard Fournette, who left the game with a hamstring injury, for two and a half quarters. But the defense gave the ball back to the offense plenty of times with a chance to win the game, which is all you should need when you have weapons like Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley.
One of the reasons it wasn’t enough this past Sunday, though, was the dropped passes – which brings us to the bad. And the Giants are coming off a season in which they led the NFL in total drops (32) and drops per catchable balls (7.9 percent), according to STATS LLC. Those are absolute momentum killers and part of the self-inflicted wounds from Sunday. The Giants had six plays of third-and-10 or longer. They need to clean up first and second downs to stay ahead of the sticks.
Art Stapleton of The Record and northjersey.com asked a great question in Pat Shurmur’s day-after press conference – the head coach admitted it was “great” too – when he said, “We know the quality of the opponent you were going against, especially defensively. How do you balance being realistic and knowing that what you did against them, but also not fall into the trap of, well, that was a great team, so now we’re not going to see a defense like that the next week and the following week?”
Shurmur responded that it’s actually one of the things they talk about frequently as a team: “We don’t make excuses or let other people make them for us, and that’s letting other people make them for us when we say, ‘Well, we played a good opponent.’ Everybody’s good, and we expect to go out and win every game, so we don’t factor that in.”
LANCE MEDOW: With one game in the books, the most encouraging aspect of the Giants’ performance has to be the overall defensive effort. Despite a new scheme being implemented this offseason and many new faces added to the mix, especially last week, James Bettcher’s crew limited Jacksonville’s offense to just 13 points, pitched a shutout in the second half and had no accepted penalties. Last season, the Giants struggled to stop the run (allowed 116 yards per game – 21st NFL) and get off the field on third down (opponents converted 40% of the time – 22nd NFL). Well, this season they’re starting to follow a different script. The Jaguars were just 4-13 (31%) on third down and although they ran for 137 yards and averaged just under five yards per carry, if you remove a 41-yard run by Blake Bortles, Jacksonville had 96 yards on its other 27 carries. If there’s anything the defense will look to improve upon, it’s developing a more consistent pass rush.
Speaking of areas of improvement, the biggest area to focus on entering Week 2 is red zone efficiency. Last season, the Giants finished tied for 25th in the NFL in that category as it scored touchdowns just 49% of the time. In their opener against the Jaguars, the Giants came up empty-handed on both of their chances. The offense piled up 324 total yards but only managed one long touchdown run by Saquon Barkley and settled for 15 total points. It’s very hard to win in the NFL when you score under 20 points and it essentially makes the margin for error non-existent, especially when a turnover leads to a touchdown. The encouraging aspect of the offense is its diversity in terms of play calling and usage of personnel and willingness to take shots down the field. Those two factors should help the team’s ability to execute in the red zone.