A last-ditch comeback effort couldn’t come through against the Detroit Lions, and the New York Giants drop their fourth straight contest to move to 2–6 at the halfway point of the season. This loss pretty much solidifies that Big Blue will miss out on the postseason for a third consecutive year, but it’s not like anyone had realistic hopes of this team earning a playoff berth to begin with. Development was always the goal after management decided that a full-on rebuild was the most prudent course of action, and with that being said, there were enough positives to take away from Sunday’s game on the road against a solid Detroit team to feel optimistic about the long-term outlook. A few choice personnel deserve some extra attention.
If I had to pick my favorite play of the game, it’s Darius Slayton’s second touchdown grab of two on the day, when he high-pointed the ball on a gutsy, but perfectly executed, throw from QB Daniel Jones to pluck it right over Lions cornerback Rashaan Melvin. Slayton, a fifth-round rookie out of Auburn, probably won’t develop elite physicality or route running to become a number one option, but at 6’1” with 4.3 speed, he has already shown the ability to be the “X receiver” this team sorely needs. He still has some work to do to round out his game, but in the meantime, I imagine he’ll keep flashing with impressive moments like that one. A great late-round pick.
Speaking of promising rookies, Jones finished the day with 322 passing yards and 4 touchdowns on 41 attempts for a 124.2 passer rating in what was easily his best showing since his break-through performance in Tampa Bay in Week 3.
The numbers that stand out to me, however, are one and two. That’s how many sacks and hits the Lions got on Jones in the first half, respectively. With consistent space to operate, Jones completed 75% of his throws at 8.6 yards per attempt for a 140.1 rating in the opening half, a perfect showing of the potential that caused the Giants to fall in love with the signal caller coming out of Duke. Of course, the one time that Lions were able to break through for a sack in the first half, it resulted in a backward pass and a scoop and score for former Giant Devon Kennard, a moment that played a significant role in determining the outcome of the game.
Better ball discipline and more controlled decision-making are going to be crucial elements in Jones’ progression, but those are easier to teach than, say, how to pinpoint a 30-yard chuck while avoiding pressure and running in the opposite direction of your target, which Jones has proven capable of accomplishing.
But you don’t concede 31 points without a lot of things going wrong, and cornerback DeAndre Baker’s limited athleticism continues to be a liability. The Giants gave up fourth and fifth rounders to move up in this most recent draft to select the Georgia product 30th overall, and even your girlfriend who thinks the yellow line is actually painted on the field can tell that Baker has struggled mightily this season. Through eight weeks, Baker has a 38.3 grade from Pro Football Focus, which ranks 111th out of 112 qualifying cornerbacks.
Take a look at the third-quarter touchdown he gave up to Kenny Golladay. It’s a simple 10-yard out route with the break right at the goal line, but Baker shades to the inside and concedes enough space for Stafford to fit the ball into the corner of the endzone and just outside of Baker’s reach. He attempts to jump the route once he’s diagnosed the play, and does manage fit his outstretched hands in front of Golladay, but Baker was too slow on his jump to make up for lost ground, and in the end, the bigger-bodied Golladay has no problem boxing Baker out to grab the contested ball. For a defensive back with underwhelming physical traits who touted for his coverage instincts coming out of college, Baker has a ways to go to justify his first-round billing.
One thing the defense continues to do well is bring down the quarterback, with four sacks and five hits on Detroit’s Matthew Stafford in Sunday’s contest. Led by the resurgent Markus Golden (six sacks on 13 QB hits), the pass rush finally has some life to it after a couple of down seasons. Through eight games in 2017 and 2018, the Giants tallied 13 and 10 sacks, respectively. So far this season, they have 22, tied for 10th in the league.
Defensive coordinator James Bettcher deserves credit for accomplishing that much, especially given that the pass rush looked like it was going to be a particularly weak spot on a team already full of question marks after Cleveland traded for Olivier Vernon. Instead, Bettcher has been able to produce results with exotic blitz packages that get everyone involved — 12 players have recorded at least half a sack for the Giants this season, only the Kansas City Chiefs have more players in the sack column at 13.
While the Giants’ pressure and knockdown rate is pedestrian, consider that seven players aged 25 or younger have received starts this year at front seven positions. This is an ascending unit that is already producing ahead of schedule. And with Leonard Williams now part of the defensive line rotation— regardless of the logic behind the acquisition — the Giants have the makings of an imposing pass rush going forward.
Last quick thought: Antoine Bethea is getting too old for this shit.
After the game, Paul Schwartz of the New York Post tweeted out that the Giants scheduled a players-only meeting to figure out what is behind this losing streak. When asked why the coaches won’t be involved, starting safety Jabrill Peppers said: “Those guys bust their ass watching tape, giving us the best game plans, the tendencies, it’s just up to us to make plays.”
Interesting to hear that the players still back the current coaching staff, which certainly doesn’t always happen when regimes post a 7–17 record to start their tenure. I think that approval is indicative of the fact that this franchise is finally working at a plan for the future after a couple of disastrous seasons pretending it had a competitive roster. Clearly this rebuild is going to require patience, player development and an infusion of talent — oh boy is it going to need a lot more talent — but games like this show that they’re on the right track.