The Giants.com crew breaks down what we learned from the team's Week 15 loss to the Cleveland Browns and what it means going into the final two weeks of the season:
John Schmeelk: The Giants' loss against the Browns was not complicated.
The Giants' opportunity to take a lead and eventually win this game came in the first half. They got into the red zone on their first three drives, but came away with only three points. They failed to convert a fake field goal, and then failed to run for a first down on fourth and a little more than a yard. Leaving them empty on two separate possessions.
Callers to our WFAN postgame show complained about the Giants' aggressive posture of going for touchdowns instead of taking field goals in those situations. But the Giants did not enter the red zone again for the remainder of the game – and that explains exactly why they were so aggressive. The team understood they had to make the most of every opportunity because it was unlikely they would be able to drive the length of the field very often.
When a team as shorthanded as the Giants were (missing their starting quarterback and two of their starting cornerbacks), it is hard to make up for those missed opportunities. The Browns stacked the box to stop the run, willing to risk getting beat with a downfield passing game. There were some downfield passes that could have been completed for big plays with higher execution. There were some dropped passes and receivers who slipped.
Defensively, the Giants were missing James Bradberry and Darnay Holmes, and it showed. A typically stingy zone defense had gaping holes that Browns receivers were able to exploit. The Giants' front successfully slowed down one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL, but the pass defense failed to complement the early-down success against the run. The Giants allowed an uncharacteristic nine passes for 17 yards or more.
The Giants' defense could not get off the field on third down, with Cleveland going 9-of-13. The result was the Giants only having three possessions in the second half, not including their final opportunity with only a little over a minute remaining. The Giants only had six true drives in the game, not including their abbreviated opportunities at the end of the halves.
In normal situations, the Giants have a small margin for error, but in a game where they were missing some of their best players, it was even smaller. If the Giants were going to win the game, they would have to take advantage of every opportunity presented to them and dominate situational football. They didn't do that and couldn't overcome their missing players, which led to the loss.
Dan Salomone: The Giants have gone from "left for dead" to "division frontrunner" and back to "counted out" again. Such is life in the NFL. After four weeks of climbing, the roller coaster has taken a drop in back-to-back weeks. The Giants expected the most physical game of the year against the Browns, and that's what they got. They went toe-to-toe with them, but Cleveland executed better in key situations. They held the Giants to just three points on three trips to the red zone.
In terms of it being a physical game, there is no letup this week. The Giants travel to Baltimore, where the Ravens have not lost in December since 2017. The Ravens have won seven consecutive home games in the month of December, and 12 of their last 13. They are 23-8 at home in this month since John Harbaugh took over in 2008. Meanwhile, Washington can clinch the NFC East with a win and a Giants loss.
Lance Medow: Entering Week 15, the Giants had scored 19 points or less in each of their previous three games for an average of just over 14 points a contest. The Browns had scored at least 41 points in each of their previous two games. As good and consistent as the defense has been this season, regardless of the caliber of the opponent, the Giants still need to find ways to manufacture more points and that was further highlighted in Sunday night's loss to Cleveland. While the Browns went 3-for-3 in the red zone, the Giants scored no touchdowns on their three opportunities and settled for just three points.
The Browns orchestrated three touchdown drives of least 75 yards, including two for 95 yards. Those three drives milked 19:41 and Cleveland had 20 points to show for it. In comparison, the Giants' three possessions that put them in the red zone logged 13:32. Time of possession and scoring opportunities are great, but it's all about what you actually do with those chances. New York and Cleveland were on opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to execution and even if the Giants took the more conservative approach and attempted field goals instead of going for it on fourth down twice, that would have given them just six more points. While it may not be so simple to say they would have still lost, 20-12, there's also no guarantee that two field goals change the flow of the game or improve the execution of the team.
The bottom line is the Giants can't expect to be in a position to win when they haven't compiled 20 points in any of their last four games and just 13 total points over the last two weeks. It puts too much pressure on the defense and when that unit doesn't generate a pass rush or collect takeaways, you're left with the opposition converting third downs (the Browns went 9-of-13) and sustaining lengthy drives. During their four-game winning streak, the Giants collected 10 takeaways and 12 sacks. In their last two losses, those numbers are zero and two, respectively.
Sunday's game played perfectly into the hands of the Browns. They built a double-digit lead in the first half, were able to control the tempo of the game and force the Giants to become one-dimensional for the bulk of the second half. It's no coincidence, that New York averaged 36 runs and 162 rushing yards during their four-game rise but 19 carries and 76 rushing yards in their last two losses. Playing from behind puts this team in a very precarious position.
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