The Giants are in an unfamiliar spot this week: Recovering from a close loss. After getting blown out in their first four defeats, the Giants’ 14-9 loss to the Bills on Sunday night came down to the final play.
Here’s a final review of that heartbreaking defeat:
No QB controversy
Giants coach Brian Daboll scoffed at the suggestion of a quarterback controversy after Tyrod Taylor filled in for injured starter Daniel Jones in Sunday’s game. That’s not a surprise. The Giants fully guaranteed $81 million to Jones seven months ago. Taylor completing 24-of-36 passes for 200 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions certainly wasn’t enough to prompt a change of heart once Jones recovers from the neck injury that sidelined him for Sunday’s game.
But watching Taylor operate the offense demonstrated some areas where Jones can improve.
“I think Tyrod did a good job,” Daboll said. “Threw the ball on time, made some good throws down the sideline to (wide receiver Darius) Slayton, got the ball out of his hands even when there was some pressure. So, did a good job of leading his team.”
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It’s tough to make a direct comparison due to Taylor’s small sample size and the different variables — Taylor had running back Saquon Barkley, who had missed the previous three games with Jones, and the addition of offensive lineman Justin Pugh helped the pass protection.
But Jones certainly would benefit from emulating Taylor’s quick trigger. The veteran backup connected on a pair of deep strikes to Slayton by getting the ball out as soon as he reached the top of his drop. Most of Taylor’s quick short passes were the result of Buffalo playing soft zone coverage, so those opportunities may not be available against other opponents.
DEEP to Slayton
📺: NBC pic.twitter.com/P6MLAqAM8r
— New York Giants (@Giants) October 16, 2023
The Giants increased their usage of empty personnel, which helps simplify reads. The line held up well enough to allow Taylor to get the ball out quickly from empty.
The biggest difference was the 43-yard pass Taylor made to wide receiver Jalin Hyatt while rolling to his left that was negated by a dubious ineligible man downfield penalty on right tackle Evan Neal. Jones just doesn’t make that type of throw.
Again, this isn’t a call to replace Jones, who told NBC his goal is to return for Sunday’s game against the Commanders. But it was interesting to watch the offense without him at the controls, and it will be interesting to see if he makes any changes when he returns.
Daboll blew up on Taylor on the field after the veteran inexplicably checked into a run play that was stuffed at the goal line as time expired in the first half. But Daboll’s clock management leading up to that gaffe warrants scrutiny.
Leading 6-0, the Giants started the drive at their own 41-yard line after a Micah McFadden interception with 2:23 remaining in the half. Possessing two timeouts, the clock shouldn’t have become a significant factor.
Daboll spends extensive time preparing for scenarios with his game management staff before games. It appeared he was trying to pace the drive so the Giants could score before halftime and leave as little time as possible on the clock for the Bills to counter.
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The Giants had third-and-3 at their own 48 with 1:26 remaining when Taylor hit Slayton on a fade route for 31 yards. That gave the Giants a first-and-10 at Buffalo’s 21-yard line with 1:21 remaining. After Barkley was tackled on a 9-yard run with 1:15 on the clock, the Giants huddled, and their next snap came with 47 seconds remaining.
Barkley was stopped for no gain on second-and-1 with 41 seconds on the clock. Daboll could be seen on the sideline waiting until the clock hit 30 seconds before calling his second timeout. A 2-yard run by Eric Gray gave the Giants a first down at Buffalo’s 10, and the Giants called their final timeout with 24 seconds remaining.
An incompletion and a defensive pass interference set up the Giants at the 1-yard line with 14 seconds remaining. That’s when Taylor made the ill-fated audible to a run that was stuffed for no gain. The Giants had no timeouts remaining and couldn’t scramble fast enough to snap the ball for a spike before time expired.
There may have been enough time for three throws into the end zone before kicking a field goal before halftime, if necessary. So the time management wasn’t as egregious as the run call by Taylor. But considering the Giants’ struggles to score, Daboll may have been overthinking it by trying to milk every second off the clock.
Pugh has been candid about his contract expectations since signing to the Giants’ practice squad two weeks ago. He was seeking a fully-guaranteed contract with playing time incentives, but was “humbled” to only receive practice squad offers from teams who weren’t willing to commit to a 33-year-old coming off a torn ACL.
Pugh said he asked the Giants that once he proves he’s worthy of a spot on the active roster that the sides “come back to the table” to discuss a contract. That seemed like wishful thinking since the Giants didn’t give raises to any of the veterans they promoted from the practice squad last season.
“Straight off the couch” 😭😭😭😭 pic.twitter.com/pQZ4xSd5h3
— Lawrence Tynes (@lt4kicks) October 16, 2023
But Pugh has more leverage than even he could imagined. Not only did he show enough to start at left guard on Sunday after two weeks of practice, but he also took over at left tackle after Josh Ezeudu left with a toe injury nine snaps into Sunday’s game.
Pugh shook off some rust early and battled at a position he hadn’t played regularly since 2015. Ezeudu left the locker room on Sunday night in a walking boot, and it seems unlikely All-Pro left tackle Andrew Thomas will return this week. So even though the Giants could elevate Pugh from the practice squad two more times, he’s in a position to negotiate a spot on the active roster with an enhanced salary.
Pugh’s practice squad salary of $370,8000 pays him $20,600 per week. He gets a raise to the veteran’s minimum of $64,722 per week for each practice squad elevation. Even if Pugh can’t negotiate a base salary higher than the minimum, he should be able to land playing time incentives since he’s filling in at such an important spot. And he could take over as the starting left guard once Thomas returns.
Better pass protection
The pass protection was improved Sunday, limiting the Bills to three sacks. One sack came when Taylor simply fumbled the ball in the pocket and fell on it. Another was charged to Pugh, but it was more of a coverage sack. Pugh was late out of his stance and simply got beat around the edge by AJ Epenesa on the other sack.
Things could have been much worse considering all of the moving pieces. In addition to Pugh’s emergency shift to left tackle, guard Ben Bredeson made his second straight start at center in place of John Michael Schmitz (shoulder). And Marcus McKethan, who had been benched after making four straight starts, came in at right guard when the line shuffled after Ezeudu’s injury.
Veteran Mark Glowinski deserves credit for being a stabilizing presence after getting benched following a brutal performance in the season opener. Fortunately for the Giants, the ninth-year veteran didn’t pout because he has twice been pressed into action during games due to injuries.
Glowinski, who has mostly been a right guard throughout his career, started at left guard in Week 5. He was back at right guard to start Sunday night, but he flipped to the left side after Ezeudu’s departure so McKethan could slide into his more comfortable spot at right guard.
Glowinski isn’t a great player, but he’s been much better since the regrettable showing in the opener.
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Daboll wisely tightened the wide receiver rotation on Sunday. Darius Slayton remained the No. 1 wide receiver, playing 87 percent of the snaps. Hyatt (73 percent) and Wan’Dale Robinson (60 percent) typically joined Slayton in three-receiver sets. Hyatt and Isaiah Hodgins (23 percent) split reps in two-receiver sets, with Hodgins getting most of the work in the red zone.
The Giants had been rotating six receivers, which prevented anyone from finding a rhythm. But Sterling Shepard played just one snap, and Parris Campbell, who played over 60 percent of the snaps in the first two games while Robinson was inactive, didn’t play an offensive snap.
Hyatt made three catches for 21 yards, highlighted by a strong 12-yard grab on fourth-and-5 on the final drive. He ran an in-breaking route and held on while taking a big hit from Bills linebacker Terrel Bernard. He would have had a 43 more yards if not for the Neal penalty.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise Barkley’s two big runs to open the fourth quarter went to the right side. He was able to cut off his healthy left foot to get outside at the second level on those runs.
📺: NBC pic.twitter.com/dtj9MtwwoO
— New York Giants (@Giants) October 16, 2023
Before Barkley’s consecutive scampers of 19 and 34 yards, the Giants’ longest run of the season had been an 18-yarder by Barkley in the opener. No Giants running back had a carry longer than 8 yards during Barkley’s three-game absence with a high-ankle sprain.
Tight end Daniel Bellinger continues to do most of his work as a blocker. He lined up in the backfield on a career-high 13 snaps, mostly as a traditional fullback in front of Barkley in the I-formation. He threw the key lead block as a puller on Barkley’s 34-yard run.
The Giants cornerbacks had been traveling with an opposing wide receiver in the previous two games, but they went back to playing on sides against the Bills. Deonte Banks played 48 of his 53 perimeter snaps on the right side of the defense. He didn’t give up a catch on three targets.
That continued a strong season for the first-round pick, who hasn’t given up more than 49 yards in coverage in a game this season. The longest completion Banks has allowed has gained just 19 yards. It’s early, but Banks is demonstrating the potential to be a No. 1 corner.
Meanwhile, the secondary has improved since 2022 third-round pick Cor’Dale Flott was inserted as the slot corner in Week 4. Flott’s emergence has allowed veteran Adoree’ Jackson to move back to his natural position on the outside and sent struggling rookie Tre Hawkins to the bench.
Stars stay on the field
Giants defensive linemen Leonard Williams (90 percent) and Dexter Lawrence (80 percent) played their heaviest workloads of the season. The Giants paid veterans Rakeem Nunez-Roches (three years, $12 million) and A’Shawn Robinson (one year, $5 million) this offseason to lighten the load on their top duo.
But Nunez-Roches and Robinson have been non-factors. Nunez-Roches played 31 percent of the snaps on Sunday, while Robinson (10 percent) was out-snapped by rookie seventh-round pick Jordon Riley (11 percent). It seemed like Robinson was trending up after playing a season-high 45 snaps in Week 3, but he has played just 28 snaps in the past three games combined.
As was the case last season, the run defense was more vulnerable when Williams and Lawrence were on the sideline. So the coaches responded by rarely taking their best run stuffers off the field.
Got your back
It was encouraging to see teammates rally to outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux’s defense when he was at the bottom of a pile near the goal line in the third quarter. Lawrence forcefully prevented Bills tackle Spencer Brown from entering Thibodeaux’s scrum with Bills tackle Dion Dawkins. Williams then decked Brown with a shove.
Thibodeaux, Lawrence, Williams and Dawkins were assessed offsetting unnecessary roughness penalties, so there were no consequences for the scuffle. It was nice to see teammates getting each other’s backs after Giants players had no reaction when defensive tackle DJ Davidson’s elbow was injured on a dirty play after the whistle by a 49ers offensive lineman in Week 3.
4 fouls after the Giants and Bills get into it. 😳
📺: NBC & Peacock pic.twitter.com/fu7sndQDgF
— Sunday Night Football on NBC (@SNFonNBC) October 16, 2023
Last gasp to salvage season
Sunday’s game was reminiscent of the nail-biters the Giants won last season. Though some encouragement can be drawn from the effort, even bad teams have competitive showings. And Daboll’s familiarity with Buffalo certainly helped the Giants overcome a talent deficiency.
The key will be building on Sunday’s effort. Of the Giants’ next eight opponents, only the Cowboys in Week 10 have a winning record. Five of their first six opponents have winning records. This upcoming stretch is their last gasp to salvage their season and they have no margin for error.
(Top photo of Tyrod Taylor: Timothy T Ludwig / Getty Images)
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