The Giants will look to rebound from their season-opening loss this Thursday when they hit the road to take on the Washington Football Team at FedExField.
Washington began the season with a home loss against the Los Angeles Chargers. The Chargers outgained Washington, 424-259, and Washington QB Ryan Fitzpatrick hurt his hip in the first half, leading to Taylor Heinicke filling in at QB. The Chargers emerged with a 20-16 victory.
Fitzpatrick's injury is likely to keep him out for some time, meaning Heinicke will be under center for Washington on Thursday. The 28-year-old quarterback has never appeared against the Giants since entering the NFL in 2017.
Here are five storylines to follow in Thursday's divisional matchup:
Daniel Jones repeating success vs. Washington
Daniel Jones had a very solid start against the Broncos, going 12-of-18 for 154 yards and a touchdown in the first 30+ minutes of the game. However, a late third-quarter fumble deep in Broncos territory ended a drive and led to Denver kicking a field goal, extending its lead to 20-7. While it was Jones' only turnover of the game, it proved to be a costly one.
"Turnovers are always going to hurt you at any point in the game and they're big plays," Jones said. "We've got to do a good job of taking care of the ball and you've gotta do a good job. But we'll keep moving forward and keep improving."
"There are times where a guy's going to be aggressive and he's going to have to go ahead and lower his shoulder to get an extra yard in a got-to-have-it type of situation. There are other times as a quarterback where you go ahead, and you slide, and you avoid the contact," Coach Joe Judge said Monday. "Look, Daniel's a tough dude and I'm the one that's got to tell him to slide sometimes. I know he hates hearing that. He doesn't want to be treated like he's got kid gloves on, but that's part of what we teach him in terms of getting down and protecting. You can see obviously on the runs after that run right there, he worked to go ahead and get on the ground and protect it until he got in the endzone on the final play."
The third-year quarterback is very familiar with this week's opponent. In his first two seasons with the Giants, Jones is 4-0 against Washington with a 68.25 completion percentage, 901 passing yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions to earn a 100.0 QB rating. He has also added 21 rush attempts for 123 yards (5.9 yards per carry).
In their Week 1 loss, Washington allowed Chargers QB Justin Herbert to throw for 337 yards, one touchdown and one interception while completing 31 of 47 passes. Herbert finished with an 85.1 QB rating.
Offensive weapons rounding into form
The Giants spent the entire preseason without most of its starting offensive weapons. Sunday's game against Denver was the first game action of any sort for Saquon Barkley, Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, and Kyle Rudolph in 2021. In fact, it was Barkley's first time on the field since Week 2 of the 2020 season. Barkley carried the ball 10 times for 26 yards, adding one reception for one yard. While his stats may not have been dazzling, the star running back was just glad to be back on the field with his teammates.
"In hindsight, it's a blessing to be able to go back out there and play the sport I love and to be able to get back out there on the football field…" Barkley said. "I felt pretty good. Got to knock some rust off, feel like I was able to do that some plays. I've got to go back, watch film and see what I could have done better."
The best performance from the Giants' offensive playmakers came from Sterling Shepard. The veteran led the game with seven receptions for 113 yards and a touchdown and earned a 79.2 overall grade from Pro Football Focus, the 15th-highest grade among all WRs in Week 1. Jones had a 155.2 QB rating when targeting Shepard. Meanwhile, Kenny Golladay caught four passes for 64 yards in his Giants debut, which led to a 102.1 QB rating for Jones when targeting him.
"I thought those guys did great. Kenny came up with some big catches and Saquon, on his first game back, I thought he did well, so those guys will gradually come along even more…" Shepard said. "We have a short week this week, so you've got to in this league, you have to be able to throw things away really quick and move on. If you let it dwell and you keep thinking about it and then you're not able to move on, move past it. So, guys have got to be able to throw it away and we got to move on and I'm sure everybody will do that."
"We've just got to build from here and I feel like we'll do that" Golladay said about his growing connection with Jones. "Like I said, we got practice that will help us with that. Then just being able to get those balls from him in the game, that was good because then you can just see a little bit of what I can do. Just to help him and just help the team."
Containing Washington's defensive front
It was a mixed performance for Big Blue's offensive line in Week 1. The unit allowed just two quarterback hits (both Von Miller sacks) and kept Jones clean on 74.4 percent of his dropbacks, the second-highest mark in his career. Nick Gates was tied for the best pass block rate among the league's centers in Week 1, while Andrew Thomas and Shane Lemieux both received pass blocking grades of 80+ from PFF.
"I'd say from the pass protection standpoint, I thought those guys did hold up for the most part today," Judge said about the line's performance against the Broncos. "Put a large emphasis obviously on a very talented defensive front, very talented defense, very well-coached defense. We knew it was going to be a great challenge. I thought those guys did a good job stepping up tonight giving us time."
While the pass protection held up well, the team's run blocking was not at its best. Saquon Barkley and Devontae Booker combined for 14 carries and 33 yards, with Jones finishing the game as the team's leading rusher (six carries for 27 yards).
"Obviously, we have to do a better job on that and I'm not going to point the finger at any position or player specifically," Judge said about the run blocking. "Obviously, we're going to look at the tape and make sure we're doing all the right things from a schematic standpoint coaching-wise and putting the players in the right position. Then, we'll coach the players and make sure that we clean that up."
For the second straight week, the Giants will go up against a very talented defense. While they only registered two sacks against the Chargers, Washington has a strong pass rush consisting of Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen and more. In the run game, Austin Ekeler was held to just 57 yards on 15 carries (3.8 avg.) last week, and the Chargers gained just 90 yards on 29 carries (3.1 avg.) overall.
"Just inside, you've got to keep the pocket firm and the tackles (have) got to be able to run their guys around the edge," center Nick Gates said about limiting Washington's pass rush. "We've got to give Daniel time to be able to step up in the pocket and get rid of the ball and he just has to get the ball out on time, too. We all kind of work together. Just if we don't hold the pocket firm then the tackles can't run their guys behind and Daniel can't step up, so we just got to – it all works together."
View photos of the Washington Football Team starters ahead of the Week 2 matchup against the Giants.
Getting pressure on Taylor Heinicke
The Giants were able to get pressure on Denver's Teddy Bridgewater. On 36 drop backs, Patrick Graham's unit was able to register 28 pressures, including 21 hurries, five quarterback hits and two sacks. The sacks came from Logan Ryan and rookie linebacker Azeez Ojulari. Leonard Williams, the team's sack leader last year, led the defense with six pressures, four hurries and two QB hits.
"From what I've seen watching film is we were focusing on getting middle push and not giving Teddy a step-up area and I think we did a good job of collapsing the pocket in the front of him and not allowing him to step into his throws," Williams said about the pass rush against the Broncos. "But like you said, we weren't being consistent at making him feel uncomfortable. I think what we have to do is while we're getting that middle push and stopping the step-up lanes, we also have to get off of the block and get hands on the quarterback."
Washington did a relatively good job of protecting the quarterback in Week 1. They surrendered just one sack, but allowed seven quarterback hits, including the one which led to Fitzpatrick's injury. Heinicke played well, going 11-of-15 for 122 yards and a touchdown. In the two games between the clubs last season, the Giants registered a total of five sacks and 16 QB hits.
"He's a guy that can go out there and can really function and operate and think outside the box, extend plays, be creative within the system and, obviously, he's been very competitive in all the games he's been in," Judge said Monday about Heinicke. "I've got a lot of respect for this guy as a player. Obviously, I started watching this guy back in the playoffs and all last year as well as some other spots he'd been in. Seeing this guy out there on the field, he's going to be a challenge for us. He's going to be a challenge for us. He's a competitor and he's going to look for ways to extend plays and get the ball downfield to their receivers."
Limiting Gibson and McLaurin
The final box score shows the Broncos totaling 165 yards on 28 rush attempts, good for an average of 5.9 yards per carry. However, Melvin Gordon busted out a 70-yard TD run late in the fourth quarter to inflate those stats. Taking out the one long run, the Giants limited Gordon, Javonte Williams and Teddy Bridgewater to 95 yards on 27 carries (3.5 avg.).
The Giants will face another challenge Thursday as they look to slow down Antonio Gibson and the Washington run game. Gibson had a promising rookie campaign last year, taking 170 carries for 795 yards (4.7 avg.) and 11 touchdowns while adding 36 receptions for another 247 yards. In the season opener, the second-year back ran the ball 20 times for 90 yards (4.5 avg.) and caught three passes for 18 yards, but had a costly fumble which led to the Chargers' game-winning score.
In addition to Gibson, the Giants must keep a close eye on WR Terry McLaurin. The former third-round pick racked up 1,118 yards on 87 receptions last season after totaling 919 yards and 58 receptions as a rookie. McLaurin led Washington with four receptions for 62 yards against the Chargers, and is the clear-cut top target in the passing game.
Prior to getting hurt a couple of minutes into the second half, Broncos WR Jerry Jeudy was having a big game against the Giants, catching six passes for 72 yards. KJ Hamler finished with three receptions for 41 yards, while Tim Patrick caught four passes for 39 yards and a touchdown.