In this edition of Cover 3, we look at the Giants after their 23-20 loss on Monday night in Atlanta.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Last week, I talked about the Giants’ defense escaping blame for the team's troubles, but it did enough to win this game against the Falcons. Atlanta scored just 10 points in the first half and punted on its first three possessions, thanks to the Giants’ three sacks in the first quarter. The Falcons gained 191 yards of offense but couldn't convert them into points. The second half was less successful but not much different from point production, with the Falcons scoring just 13, even though they never punted. The Giants’ defense did force a fumble, the only turnover for either team, on Janoris Jenkins' strip of Julio Jones. Atlanta scored on a 30-yard run by Tevin Coleman, but otherwise had to rely on 50- and 56-yard field goals by Giorgio Tavecchio. If the Giants’ offense could have scored touchdowns in the red zone, something that's becoming a consistent problem this season, the result of the game could have been a lot different.
DAN SALOMONE: Eli Manning is on pace for 4,711 yards, Odell Beckham Jr. for 121 catches, and Saquon Barkley for 16 total touchdowns. Boy, it doesn’t feel like it, does it? If someone told you before the season that’s where they would be through seven weeks, you’d assume the plan was working. The 37-year-old Manning’s biggest problem, you’d think, was just deciding which weapon to unsheathe on any given play. Beckham was being Beckham, and Barkley was making the NFL look like the Big Ten. All of those things are kind of true, and kind of not true. They are putting up numbers, but not in the right spots. Monday night was a microcosm of it. Manning had the 10th-highest passing yardage total of his 223-game career, Beckham had 143 yards and a touchdown on his way to becoming the fastest receiver to 5,000 yards, and Barkley scored his seventh touchdown in seven games. Yet, the Giants fell to 1-6 in the standings and 27th in the NFL in scoring, largely due to inefficiency in the red zone.
Pat Shurmur and his staff will keep doing a lot of math, like the percentages of going for two, to try to win a game. One equation they don’t consider, however, is the one everyone else cares about and the one that diminishes with every loss: playoff odds. They will just keep coaching and playing while the outside world starts to make plans for the team’s future. “We aren’t doing the math,” Shurmur said after the game. “We’re getting ready to play the Washington Redskins in about six days, so that’s where we’re at.” Time and NFL wait for no man.
LANCE MEDOW: For the second straight week, the Giants outgained their opponent in total yards. In Week 6 against the Eagles, the Giants came out on top, 401-379, and on Monday night edged the Falcons, 433-423. The problem is those 400-yard totals have equated to 13 and 20 points, respectively. The Giants are moving the ball, but the common theme in the last two games is it does not translate into points. In those two contests combined, the Giants are 2-for-8 in the red zone, including 2-for-5 on Monday night in Atlanta. So why has the team struggled so much to punch it in? Pick your poison. You can point to a variety of reasons, including surrendering sacks, negative runs, penalties, miscues between the quarterback and receivers and dropped passes. Most of those factors were in play against the Falcons, but the lack of a consistent run game really hurt the team.
On the Giants’ first red-zone trip, they moved the ball down to the Atlanta 13 yard-line and ran three pass plays, one of which ended in a sack. On the second red-zone trip, they ran the ball three straight times, including twice with Saquon Barkley, but couldn’t punch it in. On the third red-zone trip, the Giants made it down to the Atlanta 18-yard line, where Eli Manning threw three straight incompletions. When you advance the ball to the red zone, you’re clearly not working with as much space. That’s why the ability to run the ball successfully in those circumstances is so important.
While the defense surrendered a 30-yard touchdown run to Tevin Coleman in the second half, which was a huge turning point in the game from a big picture perspective, that unit held one of the best offenses in the NFL to just 23 points. Atlanta entered Week 7 averaging 28 points per game and had scored at least 31 points in each of its previous four home games. Based on those numbers, the defense did enough to keep the Giants in the game and give them a chance to win, but you can’t trade field goals for touchdowns against most teams in the NFL, especially the Falcons.