In this edition of “Cover 3” on Giants.com, we look at the state of the team following the 17-0 loss to the Titans on Sunday:
JOHN SCHMEELK: Last week, I wrote an in-depth story about why the Giants offense was averaging 30 points per game over their last five games, a 12-point jump over their first eight games. They had developed a formula that included getting a lead, protecting the football, and running the football consistently, which led to successful play-action passing and kept the Giants out of obvious passing situations. They failed in almost all those areas on Sunday.
It starts with the turnover ratio. The Giants had been plus-9 in turnover ratio in the five games since the bye (including three defensive scores), but against the Titans, they failed to get a takeaway and finished minus-2 on the afternoon. Eli Manning’s interception and fumble led to a 10-point swing in the final score. The Giants were in field goal range on the interception, and the Titans capitalized with a touchdown drive following the fumble. When the Giants did have the ball, they could not run the ball consistently. Four of Saquon Barkley’s first 11 runs went for zero or negative yards. Only six of Barkley’s 14 carries went for more than two yards. He finished with 31 yards, 17 of which came on one run.
The Giants used the same type of personnel packages they had in prior weeks (though we saw more Evan Engram and less Scott Simonson) with more two tight end and fullback packages, but they did not execute to run the ball well in those groups. The offensive line and the rest of the blockers in front of Saquon Barkley did not create as much space as they have in recent weeks. The Titans were also very gap-disciplined and tackled well. Their inability to run put the Giants in bad downs and distances all game. The Giants were only 3 of 16 on their third down attempts. Of those 16 attempts, only four were of fewer than seven yards. Eight were of 10 yards or more. That is not a way to succeed on third downs. It is hard to win that way. The Titans figured out a way to bust up the Giants’ winning formula. We’ll see whether the Giants can get back to what had been working for them against the Colts in Week 16.
DAN SALOMONE: Left tackle Nate Solder said it best in the postgame locker room: “I think that we fell right into the Titans’ hand.” Coach Mike Vrabel has a formula that works, and his Tennessee team executed it again on Sunday. Pat Shurmur also has a winning equation, but his Giants were unable to do what they had done throughout their second-half surge. They didn’t run the ball, they didn’t protect the ball, and they did not take the ball away. Now they have two weeks left to show that winning four of five games after the break was not a mirage and that they are not the team from the first half of the season – because Sunday resembled it. At the same time, hey, that’s football. The best teams have bad days. The Giants just want to prove that they are still one of the good ones. The last two games can still tell us a lot.
“Not making the playoffs is, we didn’t reach our goals. We didn’t do enough to compete to win the Super Bowl. So we didn’t reach our goal,” said coach Pat Shurmur, who is 5-9 after taking over a 3-13 team. “Does that mean we’re failures? No. What it means is we’ve got a lot of work to do. That’s what it means, and I want to finish this year in a way that shows that we’ve grown so that we’re at a different spot than we were a year ago to make some more of that growth that we all know needs to happen.”
LANCE MEDOW: Turnover differential is synonymous with wins and losses across the NFL landscape, and this season the Giants are no different. I would argue the defense has been too reliant on takeaways to cover up some of its other issues. Case in point, during their 4-1 surge following the bye, the Giants posted a turnover differential of plus-9. That was a far turnaround from minus-4 during the 1-7 start. Prior to Sunday, not only did the Giants collect 12 takeaways in their previous five games, but they also returned three interceptions for touchdowns. The defense wasn’t just helping the offense in field position but it was also putting points on the board. During Sunday’s game against the Titans, the defense had no takeaways and obviously didn’t score any points. As a result, some of the issues that plagued that unit in the first half of the season came back to the forefront such as stopping the run (Tennessee had 215 rushing yards) and getting after the quarterback (just one sack and two quarterback hits).
The Titans’ game was the fifth time this season the Giants failed to collect a takeaway. It’s no coincidence they’ve lost all five of those game. To take it a step further, the Giants are 5-1 this season when they win the turnover battle and 0-8 when they lose in that category. Once again, no coincidence. To me, takeaways is a fluky stat. Much like sacks, they come and go in bunches. Others would argue, “Well, you can create your own luck.” No matter what side you take, you can’t cover up the importance of fundamentals when it comes to playing any facet of football. The Giants were plagued by missed tackles in Sunday’s loss to Tennessee, and as a result, the Titans were able to set the tone on the ground. For one week, takeaways can help here or there. Over the course of a season, they’re unreliable.