What did we learn as the Giants came crashing back down to reality?
The Giants fell to the Titans 17-0, but the game didn’t even feel close when the two teams were tied 0-0. The days of the Giants feeling hopeful and as though they were on the rise seem long gone, though they were 4-1 and coming off of a 40-point divisional win coming into the game.
So then, what did we learn about the Giants on this cold, rainy afternoon in New Jersey?
The Giants are who we thought they were
The feeling all along has been that the first game of a three-game season-ending stretch which would tell us who the Giants are heading in to the 2019 offseason. If this game is any indication, they aren’t who we hoped they were — the team which won four of its last five and appeared to be heading in the right direction. Instead, this game was a carbon copy of the Giants’ 1-7 start to the season. The offensive line couldn’t block anyone on the Titans’ defense — in pass protection or run blocking. The offense tried to depend on ball-control plays but couldn’t get traction throwing horizontally.
The defense was undisciplined, shooting itself in the foot with penalties, losing contain, and struggling to tackle.
The tackling, in particular, was simply atrocious. Outside of the Giants’ defensive tackles and B.J. Goodson, the Giants’ defense hemorrhaged yards after contact throughout the game. The inability to tackle, and the Titans’ reliance on the running game, made it was mystifying why the Giants stayed in a nickel package for most of the game.
The Giants desperately missed Odell Beckham Jr.
If the Giants thought that their offense would be fine against the Titans without Beckham after scoring 33 points against the Washington Redskins … They were mistaken.
With Beckham out, the Giants could not find a consistent threat in the passing game. Manning struggled to find his chemistry with Sterling Shepard. For the second week in a row, Evan Engram emerged as the Giants’ best receiving option with 8 receptions for 75 yards on 12 targets.
Engram showed his impressive YAC ability several times this game, but the Giants still had him running shallow routes until they were desperate to move the ball at the end of the game.
While Engram has shown his potential worth to the offense, the Giants desperately need their superstar receiver back. Beckham not only has the ability to cover up many of the Giants’ mistakes and poor plays on offense, but his mere presence forces defenses to account and scheme to defend him.
The Giants just cannot run the ball consistently
This is NOT a knock on Saquon Barkley.
The narrative on him is that his tendency to dance behind the line of scrimmage and try to bounce plays for home runs rather than just taking the “dirty yards” makes him a boom or bust running back. That was anything but the case today.
The Giants ran the ball for all of 31 yards on 14 carries (not counting the run by Eli Penny , and it had nothing to do with Barkley — who had one of the Giants’ longest plays when when he forced a missed tackle in the backfield — and everything to do with the offensive line’s inability to give him any kind of room to run. All too often, Barkley was either met in the backfield or swarmed as he crossed the line of scrimmage. The Giants tried to run Barkley up the middle and off tackle (including pitches), but couldn’t find any running room. The team has largely been unable to run the ball consistently all season, but Barkley had been able to put on his cape often enough and create magic out of nothing. Those big highlight-reel plays were enough to convince the Giants that they could run the ball, but they were outliers. Outside of those plays, the running game has largely been a collection of wasted downs.
If the Giants want to be a run-first team, if they TRULY want their offense to run through Barkley, they will need to do quite a bit of soul-searching and self-scouting between now, free agency, and the draft.
The Giants’ season is (finally, mercifully) over
The Giants suffered their first shutout of the season. But if that wasn’t bad enough, the Minnesota Vikings dealt the Miami Dolphins put paid to the Giants scant hopes of playing post-season football.
With the Giants well and truly out of the hunt and mathematically eliminated from post-season contention, it will be interesting to see how the Giants respond. Will they sit Eli Manning in favor of Kyle Lauletta (who’s first on-field performance was disastrous enough to get him promptly sat back down)? Will the Giants fiddle with their roster or scheme, using their last two games as pre-preseason games as they enter the 2019 offseason? We’ll just have to see.
If we’re being perfectly frank, the way this team has played — not only against the Titans, but for most of the year — they earned this ignominious end to their season.