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Sidelines Notes

Giants fall to Titans: Film review notes and observations

The Giants lost to the Titans, 17-0, yesterday and struggled in all three phases to get anything done. Here's what I saw when I watched the tape on Monday.

• The Giants couldn't play to their formula in this game because they couldn't run the football with any sort of consistency. It wasn't from a lack of effort. On the Giants' first three drives of the game, prior to getting into passing mode when they received the ball with three minutes to go in the second quarter at their own 15-yard line, they were fairly balanced, running seven times and passing 12 times. Four of those passes came on a third and eight, 2nd and 25, 3rd and 23, and a 3rd and 10, all must-pass situations. (In the third quarter, the Giants ran it seven times and passed it nine times.)

• Barkley had just seven rushes for 19 yards in the first half. He had one run for 17 yards mixed in there when he had to break a tackle in the backfield, giving him only two yards on his other six carries. Three of his first seven runs went for zero or negative yards, including one for -10 that completely short-circuited the Giants' second drive (along with a Nate Solder false start). The Giants used plenty of two tight end and fullback sets but couldn't get consistent push. Evan Engram played more in this game, with Scott Simonson only getting three snaps, and while Engram did struggle with a couple of blocks, it would be unfair to pin the struggles running the ball on him. (I didn't see Engram do anything illegal on the holding penalty called on him either.)

• The Titans have a good front and it was clear they were dedicated to stopping the run. Their defensive backs and linebackers were very aggressive in filling gaps, with very few bad run-fits or missed tackles. Barkley had to grind out every one of his 31 rushing yards. There were Titans in the backfield all game. The balance of 47 pass dropbacks versus 15 runs seems very lopsided, but it is important to note that 21 passes came in two-minute situations where the team had no choice but to throw. The Giants tried to run it but couldn't do it effectively. 

• The Giants were unable to take advantage of the Titans' focus on the run with game-changing plays in the pass game. Manning did complete four passes for 20 yards or more (and two more of 15-plus) but none for more than 40 yards. Without Odell Beckham Jr. in the game, Giants wide receivers had trouble getting consistent separation against various Titans coverages. 

• The Titans didn't bring more than four players, but they were very creative in how they blitzed their defensive backs from different angles and with different timing. The Titans also ran some twists and stunts that gave the Giants offensive line problems. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey was very disruptive throughout. Barkley did not have a lot of room to run, and Manning faced pressure throughout the game.

• Manning had a bad throw of his own on the fourth drive of the first half. Barkley went in motion to the right to draw the defense to set up a screen pass left to Engram. He had blockers and room to run, but Manning airmailed the pass to him, which could have turned into a big play. He also had a couple of other passes later in the game that could have been intercepted but weren't. 

• The Giants had a number of opportunities to make plays, but they had far too many drops in addition to the aforementioned missed throws. Depending on how you count them, Shepard had four balls hit his hands that he was unable to come down with. The conditions, no doubt, had something to do with it. 

• Negative plays hurt two of the Giants drives into Titans territory. After an 18-yard completion to Bennie Fowler off a Titans blitz gave the Giants the ball on Tennessee's 42-yard line, they had three plays for -4 yards, leading to a punt. The Giants max protected with eight players on a first down play action pass, but pressure came from the right side before Sterling Shepard could come open on a deep out, forcing Manning to throw an incomplete pass short to Barkley. On second down, Barkley ran for no gain with penetration from the right side. On third down, a delayed blitz came from the right and cornerback Logan Ryan sacked Manning. 

• The Giants' second drive into Titans territory came on the opening drive of the third quarter. In a drive with a good mix of run and pass, the Giants got it down to the Titans 19-yard line. After a one-yard run on first down, Jamon Brown was called for illegal hands to the face to make it second and 19. A quick screen pass to Sterling Shepard on second down lost a yard when his blockers faked blocks and went into patterns in what looked like some kind of miscommunication. Then on third down, Manning tried to get the ball to Russell Shepard on a deep out against 2-deep man under coverage, but Kevin Byard made a nice play coming down from his deep safety position to intercept the pass. The interception killed the Giants' best scoring opportunity of the game. Shepard was the right man to target on the play, but he was short of the first down, and Manning seemed to eye him for much of the play, allowing Byard to get a strong break on the ball. 

• Manning's fumble that Tennessee recovered on the 14-yard line on the following drive set up a Titans touchdown to give them a two-score lead. Manning's two turnovers constituted a 10-point swing. In their five wins this year, the Giants have been +2 or better in the turnover ratio. They were -2 on Sunday, which continues to be the linchpin to whether they win or lose games. 

• Other aspects of the Giants winning formula the last five weeks disappeared against the Titans. The Giants failed to play with a lead, trailing from the first quarter onwards. Manning was sacked three times, Barkley had four negative runs, the Giants had 10 penalties, and they only converted three of 16 third downs. Of those 16 third down attempts, only four were of fewer than seven yards. Eight were of 10 yards or more.

• If you want to simplify this game into one sentence, do it this way: In a bad weather game, the Titans could run the ball, and the Giants couldn't. The Giants defense could not stop the run. Marcus Mariota only attempted 20 passes and completed 12 for 88 yards. He didn't have to do more than that for his team to win the game. The rain actually affected the Titans passing game too. Taywan Taylor had a drop on a potential third down pass early in the game, and Mariota had a couple of off-target throws that are normally easy completions for him. 

• The Titans didn't have to do more with the pass game because they ran the ball 45 times for 215 yards, and the defense kept the Giants off the scoreboard. As Pat Shurmur said in his Monday press conference, the run-fits weren't all that terrible. More often than not, Henry's longer runs came because of missed tackles and runs that he bounced outside where there was poor containment. Henry is a 240-pound running back, and it showed with the Giants defensive backs struggling to get him down. Henry did a good job of leaning forward through defenders for extra yards at the end of runs as well. 

• The Giants also had very little penetration in the backfield. There were a couple of plays the Giants did get a defender in the backfield, but a missed tackle often allowed Henry or Dion Lewis to escape. Of the Titans' 40 runs from their running backs, only five went for zero or negative yards, just one more than Barkley had in just 14 carries. 

• Josh Mauro made a couple of plays in the backfield, but his facemask penalty on Mariota on a third and goal sack from the three-yard line extended the drive and allowed the Titans to score a touchdown off of the Manning fumble. It was the right call and a costly penalty. 

• The bottom line in this loss is that the Giants made far too many mistakes and did not make nearly enough plays in any of three phases of the game to come away with a win.

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