By Aaron Weiss
The New York Giants were handed a soul-crushing and seemingly-postseason-eliminating loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, on a time expiring 61 yard field goal by rookie kicker Jake Elliott (who had already missed a FG earlier in the day; this is also the last you’ll hear of him today, as he is a blight on me and every other Giants fan today). With a final score of 27-24, the Giants have to stagger home and somehow find a way to resurrect the season, as only 5 teams have made the playoffs after the starting 0-3 since 1980; none have done it since the turn of the millennium. So while the Giants look to do what’s next to impossible, we’ll break down what happened this past Sunday!
The first 8 minutes of the fourth quarter – For the first 8 minutes of the fourth quarter we saw a Super Bowl caliber squad Giants team. The defense was on the field for 3 drives: one finishing a 3 and out, one ending after a fumble on the first play, and 1 ending in a punt after 6 plays. Offensively, there was a five play, 55-yard TD drive where Eli was 5-5, a 4 play, 33 yard TD drive where Eli was 2-2 (connecting in the end zone with Odell Beckham for the 2nd straight drive), and Orleans Darkwa was 2 for 22 on the ground, including a powerful 20-yard rush, and finally a 2 play, 78 yard TD drive where Eli Manning connected with Sterling Shepard for 77 yards and the TD. Granted this version of the team was incredibly pass heavy, which isn’t ideal for a Super Bowl squad, but it showed all that the Giants offense (the main source of the Giants early woes) could be; it was the driving force behind Eli Manning’s 366 yard day (and 7.8 yard/pass average), it was the predominant reason for the success of the big 3 receivers that was envisioned by Giants fans this offseason (7/133/1, 9/79/2, 8/66/0 for Shepard, Beckham and Marshall respectively), and most of all, a high octane offense with too many options to cover that’s only overshadowed by a smothering defense. Instead, the Giants are looking at a winless record and more doubt than ever.
Janoris Jenkins – After missing the Week 2 Monday night game with an injury, Jenkins, who was listed as questionable before the game, came out strong, allowing 4 catches on 6 targets for just 38 yards. He spent a lot of the day covering Alshon Jeffrey, and was a large factor in his uninspiring day (4/56/0 on 8 targets).
Calvin Munson – Starting in lieu of the injured BJ Goodson for the 2nd straight week, Munson continued to improve, recording 3 tackles and .5 tackles for loss, with two of those tackles instigating defensive stops. It was a rather ordinary stat line, but he was clearly better in pass coverage, and on a team that hasn’t had a quality healthy MLB since Antonio Pierce, it’s reassuring to know that Munson is a viable option with BJ on the sideline.
Eli Manning – All in all Eli played well on Sunday, and for a full breakdown of his performance you’ll want to check out our film study on his game, but the stat I wanted to point out was his gunslinger stat. Eli only threw the ball further than 20 yards in the air once on Sunday, and it ended up being intercepted. As I said in past weeks, you can make a noodle armed QB work (just ask the Peyton Manning-led Broncos), but it is clearly debilitating when the opposing secondary knows the QB cannot consistently attack it deep.
The Running Game – As I’ve mentioned in the past, obviously a ton of what ails the offense, especially the run game, is as much on the offensive line as it is the RBs, but after the offensive line yards before contact per attempt “skyrocketed” to 1.35 (Giants fans, this is your cue to start crying), I’ve got to come after the backs, who collectively went 17 for 49 and no TDs, averaging 2.9 yards a run. Remove Darkwa’s 20-yard run and that number goes down to 1.8 yards/run, and Darkwa specifically goes from 7/22/3.1 to 6/2/.33. The trio of Giant backs (Darkwa, Perkins, and Vereen) made some headway in the passing game, going 5 for 37 on 5 targets, but with each aspect of the offense that can’t produce (the long ball, the run game, etc) it becomes harder and harder to be productive, and easier and easier for defenses to game plan for.
Brad Wing – Usually one of my favorite players, I have to criticize Wing for perhaps the first time. He averaged a paltry 38.5 yards per punt on 4 tries, including two shanks of 28 yards apiece. Those shanks culminated in 10 Philly points, including the game winning field goal. He’ll rebound, but something about Lincoln Financial Field rattled the Aussie.
Time of possession – I harped on the significance of this stat last week, but despite the 24 points scored the Giants managed to only hold the ball for 22 minutes and 28 seconds, clinching the worst average mark in the NFL at 25:09, a full minute behind the next worst team, the San Francisco 49ers (whose average TOP of 26:19, and they’re a whole minute behind the next worst team, the LA Chargers (27:19)). This led to the Giants defense being on the field almost twice as long as the Giants offense, which led to injury, exhaustion, and an inability to stop the Eagles late after the Giants claimed the lead. The Giants are somehow nearly three minutes worse than their average TOP last year, which was 28:08 and 4th worst in the league. Unless the Giants offense can play like they did early in the 4th quarter all game, and put up 50+ points per game, the Giants will continue to lose football games until they get their TOP closer to 30 minutes.
Eli Apple/Penalties – Both teams were atrocious when it came to penalties, but the Giants just edged out the Eagles in terms of crappiness, with 10 penalties for 137 yards (the Eagles had 9 penalties for 103 yards). For once the brunt of this atrocity doesn’t land on the offensive line (although, Ereck Flowers was true to form with back to back penalties on the Giants final drive, leading to 2nd & 18, and an eventual shanked punt that put Philadelphia at their on 38 yard line with 13 seconds to go), but rather on Eli Apple, who was atrocious in coverage while notching two defensive pass interference penalties for 77 yards. In both instances the Eagles would go on to score touchdowns shortly thereafter. And while some, including myself, would argue that one of those calls was bollocks, as the ball was not catchable, the 41 yard DPI against Alshon Jeffrey was so flagrant that you almost have to consider benching him at that point. If there’s any one player responsible for this loss, other than the Eagles kicker (and to be clear, there isn’t), it’s Eli Apple.
Run defense – The Giants defense that is generally phenomenal against the run, led by the league’s best run defender in Damon Harrison, got creamed on Sunday, giving up 193 yards and 2 touchdowns on 39 attempts, with a whopping 4.9 yards per attempt. Put that on exhaustion, or on the fact that it was around 100°F on the field, but no matter who was in the Philly backfield, they managed to run all over the Giants. The Eagles had two runs of 20 yards apiece, and two of their backs, Smallwood and Blount, managed over 50 yards. While the story of defensive exhaustion is somewhat similar to the chicken and the egg, the Giants’ defense can’t help themselves if they allow this sort of action in the run game, or if they can’t sack the quarterback, who himself had 6 rushes for 22 yards while scrambling out of the pocket. While I’d refer critics of this defense to my section on time of possession, there is no doubt that this team needs to do better up front if they’re going to have any success going forward.
Odell Beckham – Odell appears close to full form, but he may have gone too far with a touchdown celebration where he mimed a urinating dog, which led to a ruff unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Beckham would later go on to clarify that this was inspired by President Trump’s referring to NFL players who don’t stand for the National Anthem as “son[s] of bitch[es]” (adjusted to be grammatically correct). The celebration did not sit well with Giants owner John Mara, who has put Odell in the doghouse, saying he’s “very unhappy” and that the Giants “intend to deal with it internally.” We’ll see if Mara’s bark is worse than his bite, but in my opinion, if it takes a day and a confirmatory tweet to figure out why one does a celebration, you may need to find a new celebration.
Darren Sproles – The 34 year old Philly vet and longtime inspiration to short people everywhere managed to break his arm and tear his ACL in a single play. Between the injury itself and his declaration last December that 2017 would be his final year, There’s as good a chance as not that this is the end of his NFL career (and it’s definitely the end of his run as short person ambassador for the NFL; that title firmly belongs with Chicago RB Tarik Cohen), and if it is we want to applaud him on a stellar 12 year career. In the meantime, we hope and pray he has an effective and speedy recovery.
Injuries – Olivier Vernon and Orleans Darkwa both got hurt during the game on Sunday, but neither is reported to be serious, and both should be good to go this week. Additionally, BJ Goodson is expected back at practice tomorrow, so New York should be close to full strength.
NFC East Picture:
The other NFC East teams all had statement wins this week, none more so than Washington’s truly dominant 27-10 win over the Oakland Raiders, who had looked phenomenal up until that game. Dallas rolled over the Cardinals on Monday Night Football 28-17, and the Eagles obviously beat the Giants. This puts New York two games behind everyone else, and a game behind in divisional tiebreakers. All of that combined with a rough schedule (games at Denver and versus Seattle in heading into the bye week, and a back stretch that includes 4 divisional games, a game at Oakland, and a game versus one of the 2 remaining undefeated teams (the Chiefs)) means the Giants are going to need every break to return to contention.
Next Week: The Giants stay on the road and go to Tampa, who is 1-1 after having their Week 1 matchup cancelled due to Hurricane Irma. They convincingly beat Chicago in Week 2 and were convincingly beat by Minnesota in Week 3, so it’s hard to peg where this leaves the Bucs. The good news for the Giants is that the Bucs are more injured than a Tom Coughlin Giants’ roster. Pro Bowlers Brent Grimes and Lavonte David are most likely going to miss the contest, while Pro Bowlers Gerald McCoy and TJ Ward are also questionable for the contest, along with Noah Spence, Kwon Alexander, and Jacquies Smith. Only one team has ever made the playoffs after starting 0-4, the 1992 Chargers, so this game is a must win for the Giants, and, after showing flashes against the Eagles, I think the G-Men notch their first win against this injury riddled Bucs squad.
Prediction – Giants wins 31-21