It is mostly true when they say it is about the players and not the plays. And it is mostly true that the struggles of the Giants, as far as production, is mostly a function of a shoddy offensive line. But it is also true that there is something wrong with the operation, from top to bottom, because there is too much talent to be this impotent when it comes to scoring points.
What was supposed to be an awakening instead unraveled into a slumber party and someone has to answer for this. Riddle me this: If most of the top playmakers are on the field but they do not make any plays, are they really and truly playmakers?
Sometimes a loss is just a loss but the way the Giants went down, 30-10 to the Buccaneers on Monday night in Tampa, so meekly and non-threatening, is too disturbing to push aside and move on. You know loss No. 7 this season was particularly galling because Joe Judge, the now-embattled head coach, said so.
“We have too many good players and we have to put them in better position to capitalize,” Judge said. “That’s it.’’
Well, that might not be it.
Perhaps the Giants misjudged their talent. Perhaps they chose unwisely when they gave Kenny Golladay a $72 million contract in free agency. Perhaps they are not correct in their belief that rookie Kadarius Toney is something special. Perhaps Saquon Barkley, struggling in his first game back from an injury — rinse and repeat — is not going to ever live up to the ridiculously high bar this franchise set for him. And, most incriminating of all, perhaps the Giants overvalued Daniel Jones when they made him the No. 6 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
If these evaluations are all wrong, it is a failing of epic proportions by the front office and that means general manager Dave Gettleman will pay for it at season’s end.
Judge, for now, is singing a different tune. It is not them, it is us. It is not the players, it is the coaches. That means Jason Garrett, the offensive coordinator, is in the crosshairs. And could this mean that Jerry Schuplinski, the quarterbacks coach, could be in danger. Jones in many ways looked better as a rookie running Pat Shurmur’s offense than he does at present with this coaching group.
At the bye week last year, Judge fired Marc Colombo, his offensive line coach. That was not the intention, but it had to happen when Colombo threatened to get physical with his boss. Judge had already become more involved with working with the offensive linemen in practice and decided to bring in a consultant for the offensive line. Colombo bristled at that, words were exchanged and that was that.
The bye week is the best time for this sort of upheaval. The Giants this season hit their bye week after nine games, got schooled by the Buccaneers and now have only six days until their next game, at home Sunday against the Eagles. Last week was a “long week” with a Monday night game. This week is a “short week” coming off that Monday night game. Making big changes in a short week is not ideal.
The reality of the situation is that the Giants cannot completely overhaul their offense in a handful of days. Will Judge be so bold as to attempt this? Without dismissing Garrett right now — that feels less unlikely now than ever before — would relieving him of the play-calling duties change much? Freddie Kitchens, the senior offensive assistant, has a history as an NFL play-caller from his time in Cleveland. He called the plays one game last season, when Garrett tested positive for COVID-19. The Giants lost 20-6 and did not score a touchdown. No one has ever mistaken Freddie Kitchens for Sean Payton in the play-calling department.
Elsewhere on Judge’s staff, Russ Callaway is in his first year with the Giants and was a high-octane offensive coordinator at Samford. Calloway spent the 2020 season as a senior offensive analyst at LSU.
A depleted Buccaneers defense handled the Giants thoroughly at a time when the expectation was this could be an emergence, with health returning to the offensive skill positions — although Barkley was admittedly quite rusty — and Andrew Thomas was back at left tackle. Instead, this happened:
- The Giants had a season-low 215 total yards, the second-lowest total since Judge and Garrett came aboard.
- The Giants had a season-low 15 first downs.
- With Barkley back, the Giants rushed for 66 yards, their lowest total since the season-opening loss to the Broncos.
- The Giants’ time of possession — 24:21 — was a season low.
- Jones had a season-low 4.4 yards per attempt, a paltry figure for an offense that was feeling good about the game-breakers it has on offense.
- Toney, supposedly so electrifying and difficult to tackle, had seven receptions but his longest went for only 8 yards.
Garrett was remarkably honest last week when he called the struggles of the offensive line “just part of where we are’’ and said aloud what others have been reluctant to verbalize in public: “We’re trying to rebuild a team and that’s a process.” He then went on to describe how when he was the Cowboys head coach, Dallas built a formidable offensive line by making it a priority and drafting expertly.
This might be the crux of the matter. It could be it is less about the plays being called and the scheme being taught and more about the inabilities of the guys up front. For every critique of Jones and Barkley and the receivers, there is the underlying sense that this is an offensive line that makes everyone and everything look worse.
More that came out of the latest Giants loss:
Did anyone else not appreciate how routinely the Bucs on offense cut through the Giants on defense? We get it. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham tries to bleed the life out of a game, keeping the ball in front of his players, unwilling to get beat deep and thus unwilling to send heavy heat in the form of exotic blitzes. We also get it that Graham knows he cannot get enough pressure on the opposing quarterback with only four pass rushers. He got virtually nothing from his defensive line in this game. Tom Brady held onto the ball for 35:39. The Bucs had a mammoth 18-play drive in the first half that chewed up 7:48 on the clock and ended with a field goal. Brady was content to pull a Roberta Flack — killing me softly — on the Giants’ defense.
No bite for Barkley
Saquon Barkley was on the field for 36 snaps in his first action after missing four games with a sprained ankle. The rust was evident and he admitted as much. This is the problem with all these starts and stops. Barkley misses time, he needs time to get back in rhythm, he finally gets in rhythm, he gets hurt, he misses time and the cycle regenerates itself. Will he ever be back this season, at full strength, in full gear?
Remember when Joe Judge said all three of his offensive tackles will play? Well, not quite. Andrew Thomas, returning after missing four of the last five games with foot and ankle issues, was in for all 58 offensive snaps. Nate Solder, the veteran right tackle, also played all 58 snaps. Matt Peart, the second-year player the Giants are supposed to be grooming and developing, got on the field for only five snaps on offense, serving as an extra offensive lineman in the jumbo run package. What does this tell you about the faith this coaching staff has in Peart, if he cannot sub in at right tackle every now and then, especially after this staff started Peart at left tackle when Thomas was hurt?
Sign of decline
It was easy to overlook this, but it should not be overlooked. The Giants were down 27-10 late in the fourth quarter when Daniel Jones did not connect on a pass to Kadarius Toney. Will Hernandez, the right guard, was called for holding on the play. If the Buccaneers accepted the penalty — holding calls are rarely not accepted — it would have set up a second-and-20 situation on the Giants’ 27-yard line. Instead, the Bucs declined the penalty, giving the Giants a third-and-10 on their own 37-yard line. The Bucs did not view the Giants as any threat to convert that third down and saw no need to push the Giants back another 10 yards. That is telling.