That better have been a long train ride.
The Giants rode the rails back home from their ridiculous — is there any other word for how many ways this franchise finds ways to fail? — 30-29 loss to Washington, and head coach Joe Judge said “Me and Pat will have a long train session, going through the tape on the train ride back. That will be a focus moving forward getting fixed.’’
The focus is on fixing the pass defense, and the Pat that Judge is referring to is Pat Graham, the Giants’ defensive coordinator. There were plenty of issues this team took into the 2021 season, plenty of possible pitfalls and pratfalls this team might encounter. Defending against the pass was not supposed to be anywhere on the list, much less darn near the very top.
If you want to investigate the main reason why the Giants did not leave FedEx Field with a victory, start here. Sure, if Dexter Lawrence did not jump offside — who does this? — on Dustin Hopkins’ missed 48-yard field goal, the Giants win 29-27 and they are 1-1, there is order in the Giants’ universe as they get a 10-day break from taking the field for another game. That Lawrence actually did jump offside is inexcusable. Where he is lined up, he is the closest Giants player to the snap of the football. It is right there! All he has to do is watch for the snap and then move. It is not as if he is coming around the edge and trying to gain a split second advantage for an attempted block. For this to happen on a team coached by Judge — a special teams specialist — is another chapter in the How The Giants Lose manual.
Lawrence will take the heat for this and he probably will never, ever make this mistake again, however long his NFL career lasts. This is not the immediate issue for the Giants. Daniel Jones, who played well, is not the immediate issue. Saquon Barkley, clearly in the nascent stages of getting back to form following knee surgery, is not the immediate issue. The immediate issue that must be confronted and corrected is a defense that, through two games, is in disarray.
In Week 1, Teddy Bridgewater did as he pleased, finding gaping holes in the Giants secondary for the Broncos. Four nights later, Taylor Heinicke, in his third NFL start — he was 0-2 — completed 34 of 46 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns. He was floating the ball around, almost daring the Giants to pick it off. That the Giants only got one of them — James Bradberry’s extremely athletic interception with 2:16 remaining — is disturbing.
We can retire “vaunted’’ when it comes to the Giants’ defensive backs, at least for now. Bradberry spent the evening mostly getting beat by Terry McLaurin (11 receptions for 107 yards, one touchdown). Jabrill Peppers was strangely a part-time player in the opener and did not make a big impact getting 80 percent of the defensive snaps against Washington. There are too many miscommunications and too much zone coverage being deployed. No question, the lack of an effective pass rush is hurting the guys on the back end. Still, the pass coverage simply must be much better, or else this team has no chance.
“Well, I think, first off, we have to do a better job at that right there,’’ Judge said. “That’s going to come from a lot of different aspects. We will watch the tape, make sure we have it narrowed down.’’
Is one train ride long enough to right these wrongs?
Other musings coming off another early-season loss for a team that makes early-season losses habit-forming:
- A team knows it has its franchise quarterback when every game is not a referendum on if he is the right man for the job. The Giants do not know this yet with Daniel Jones, but this latest loss — his first after going 4-0 in four starts vs. Washington — is not about Jones. He played well. He needs to produce more than 249 yards on 22 pass completions and he should have had a 43-yard touchdown pass to Darius Slayton on his resume. That Slayton allowed the ball – overthrown by perhaps six inches — to glance off his fingers most likely cost the Giants the game. Jones read a bust in the Washington coverage and his pass should have given the Giants a 30-20 lead with 6:18 remaining.
- The play-calling when the Giants got the ball with 2:16 remaining, courtesy of Bradberry’s interception, on the Washington 20-yard line, was far too conservative. Playing scared was more like it. We get it, Judge’s main concern was forcing Washington to use all its time outs, with the Giants already well within field goal range for Graham Gano. There was no need to throw the ball all around and risk a sack or a fumble or an interception. But there was a need to show some aggressiveness, rather than two runs into the line by Barkley that produced a total of three yards. Did anything go on to that point to make Judge think Barkley and a rebuilt-on-the-fly offensive line could grind out a first down? Barkley had a 41 yard run in the first quarter. He finished with 57 yards on 13 rushing attempts. So, on his other 12 rushing attempts, he averaged 1.3 yards.
“It had nothing to do with not trusting Daniel,’’ Judge said. “It was also trusting our run game as well. It was trusting the offensive line, the front. We talk all the time about the strategy of being in that situation. It’s obviously one of those things you go back and forth on. Ultimately, you want to control as much as you can, control the points you have, not put yourself in a position for a negative play. Obviously, on third down, we threw that ball right there. We have a lot of trust in our offense right there to really make it look easy and go out there and run the ball one at a time.’’
Make it look easy? Ugh.
- The Giants gave up what was basically an uncontested touchdown to close out the first half, when they left a huge hole on the eight side of their defensive line and J.D. McKissic ran untouched into the end zone. This came after a Giants time out to set their defense, making this a bad look. It seemed as if the Giants did not think Heinicke was capable of checking out of one play and into another.
“So, we called a play where, actually, I don’t want to give this away,’’ Heinicke said. “It was going to be a pass play and they called timeout and they come back and there’s a three-man front and there are only about four or five people in the box, so I was like ‘Hey, if we don’t run and score a touchdown here, we don’t deserve to win.’ So made the check, and it was a touchdown.’’
- Kadarius Toney actually is credited with being on the field for 19 of the 69 offensive snaps. Do not feel badly if you did not notice. He was not targeted, not once. He never got the ball in his hands. Toney in the third quarter had a sideline conversation with Judge that did not appear to go well, and Toney never took another snap. He took to his Instagram account to post something that either is very meaningful or not at all — does anyone really want to dig too deeply into what 22-year old rookies are trying to convey on social media? The Toney post included this: “I don’t be mad. S–t just lame to me.’’ Discuss amongst yourselves. What is crystal clear is the Giants selected Toney with the No. 20 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. They better have a plan for him. If they do, it is not readily apparent.