Revisiting the 10 Things The Giants Didn't Want to See Happen in 2020
Long before the start of the Giants' 2020 season, we outlined ten things that the Giants probably didn’t want to see in 2020.
As luck—or make that misfortune—would have it, several things on that list have indeed happened. So as painful as it might be, let’s revisit the list and look at the impact it’s had on what has been a disappointing first half to head coach Joe Judge’s rookie season.
1. Saquon Barkley suffers another injury.
In what was the most Giants thing to happen to the Giants, they lost star running back Saquon Barkley to a season-ending torn ACL in Week 2.
Barkley is the one injury the Giants probably couldn't afford to have on offense. Although the running game was struggling with him in the lineup--they racked up just 29 rushing yards with Barkley in the Week 1 loss to the Steelers--the Giants are still a more dangerous team with Barkley than they are without him.
So now, as Barkley prepares to have reconstructive surgery on that knee, the question is whether he can rebound from the devastating injury.
Adrian Peterson had success bouncing back from a similar injury, and he was a little older than Barkley when he suffered his ailment. But right now, Barkley is facing a long road to recovery with no guarantees beyond his vow to work nonstop to come back stronger than ever.
2. More players opt-out of the season.
When the original "10 Things" article was written, only two players, left tackle Nate Solder and wide receiver Da’Mari Scott opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns.
But it was the third player who opted out as the deadline approached that has created a rather big ripple in the Giants plans, that being third-year cornerback Sam Beal.
One can’t hold the decision to opt-out against a player as we don’t know their personal health history or if they’re living with people who are at high risk of getting COVID-19.
Still, Beal’s decision to opt-out sent the Giants on a bit of an odyssey to find a viable No. 2 cornerback, which began with Corey Ballentine, last year’s sixth-round draft pick, but which lasted two games.
The search moved on to Isaac Yiadom, whom the Giants traded a seventh-round draft pick to the Broncos. That experiment didn’t last very long, either. So now the Giants are on their third cornerback, Ryan Lewis, an undrafted free agent from 2017 who so far has been serviceable.
3. Daniel Jones’ turnover problems continue.
Sadly, Jones has picked up where he left off in the turnover department.
As a rookie, he threw 12 interceptions and fumbled 18 times, including 11 fumbles lost. This year, he’s already recorded seven interceptions, which has him on pace for 16, and has five of the team’s nine fumbles, four of those fumbles lost to the opponent.
A case could be made that not all the turnovers this year are on Jones, even though they do get charged to his stat lines. A perfect example was the two he had against the Eagles.
While thrown with a bit too much zip on the ball, the interception should have been caught by tight end Evan Engram, who took his eye off the ball momentarily to see where the linebacker was.
And the blindside hit he took after left tackle Andrew Thomas wasn’t exactly a case of Jones being too loose with the ball as it was him being startled by the hit that there was no way he could have seen coming unless she had eyes in the back of his head.
With all that said, Jones went through an off-season weight training program that was supposed to help him with his strength and his grip of the ball. That the fumbles are still happening is a concern. That the interceptions are still happening, new system or not is also a concern.
4. Evan Engram gets hurt again.
The good news is that Evan Engram is healthy.
Or is he? Engram, whom many anticipated would flourish in the Giants offensive system as run by Jason Garrett, has not.
So far, Engram has caught 26 out of 41 pass targets (63.4%) for 223 yards and zero touchdowns. He’s averaging just 4.9 yards after the catch per reception and has a dismal 38.0 rating when targeted, the worst rating of all the Giants receivers, running backs, and tight ends combined based on a minimum of 15 pass targets.
But getting back to whether Engram is healthy, remember he had his foot surgery in December last year, late in the season.
The later a player has surgery, the less time he has to train in the off-season. It’s certainly fair to wonder if Engram’s foot has been a problem with his route running and if it’s caused him to play a little more tentatively all-around, including as a blocker where this year he has allowed one pressure after allowing no pressures in 2019.
The assumption is if a player is healthy enough to be on the field, he should be full strength, but it’s also fair to wonder if a player who has been banged up as Engram has over his career has grown just the slightest bit tentative.
Tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens insisted Engram is healthy and said it's unfair to define the Youngman by one play. But it hasn't just been one play where Engram has come up short this season, and whatever it is that's holding him back from putting his full talents on display, this coaching staff better figure it out and fix it.
5. Darius Slayton underperforms.
So far, Darius Slayton has picked up where he left off last season when he emerged as a surprise leader in scoring touchdowns. Slayton has caught 27 out of 45 pass targets (60%) for 429 yards and three touchdowns and is averaging 15.9 yards after the catch.
His reception percentage is on par with what he finished with last year, also 60%, and his average receiving yards per game is up from 52.8 to 61.2.
This Giants offense doesn’t appear to favor any one player as it’s more of a matchup based system, but when you have a playmaker of Slayton’s capability, if you’re not finding more ways to get him the ball, then something is wrong.
6. Another bad start to the season.
Once upon a time, the NFC East was the premier division in the NFL. But over the years, that honor has faded, now taken up by the NFC West.
Meanwhile, the division I often refer to as the NFC Least given all four resident teams' struggles—the Giants, Washington, Cowboys, and Eagles, who through seven weeks have a combined 7-20-1 record is there for the taking for whoever wants it.
So far, that hasn’t been the Giants. Not only is New York off to a dismal 1-6 start to their season, their worst start since 2018, they’re also 1-2 in the NFC Least, with a critical two-game stretch against Washington and Philadelphia coming up after their Monday night game against Tampa Bay.
Winning the division is the first step toward building toward greater things, and unless the Giants turn things around in the second half of the season, it will be another lost year.
7. Problems in the kicking game.
When the “10 things that could go wrong” article was first written, the Giants had signed Chandler Catanzaro to be their place-kicker. They’ve since swapped him out for Graham Gano, and in what’s been one of the few things to go right for the Giants this season, the kicking game has been superb.
Gano scooped off the unemployment line after missing last year with an injury to his kicking leg, has made 100% of his PATS, and is 93.8% on his field-goal attempts, tying him for second with Atlanta’s Younghoe Koo among kickers who have attempted at least 15 field goals.
And how nice has it been to know that when Gano lines up, the chances are high that his place-kicking attempts are going to be stress-free?
8. A struggling pass rush.
The Giants were hoping to get a little better production from their pass rush this year after posting 36 sacks (10 of those by the since traded Markus Golden) and 280 total pressures.
At this point in the season, the unit is on pace to match last year's totals, having posted 18 sacks as part of 111 pressures. That the Giants still don't have a blue goose pass rusher on the team--they had hoped that one of their young players like Lorenzo Carter or Oshane Ximines might step out of the shadows, but both are instead on injured reserve--is unsettling.
Leonard Williams, who is being paid under the franchise tag, currently leads the Giants defense with 21 total pressures and is tied with Kyler Fackrell for the team lead in sacks with three, which puts Wiliams tied for fifth league-wide according to PFF.
The glass-half-full view is that considering this is a new defense, to be on pace where they were last year is a positive.
But it sure would make things a lot easier if this team could finally have someone among their young corps step up as a consistent pass rusher once and for all.
9. Andrew Thomas struggles early on.
Coming into this season, Pro Football Focus ranked Thomas as one of the top-25 offense tackles in the league even before the youngster out of Georgia took an NFL snap.
Now? Thomas, per PFF, has allowed a league-high 37 pressures among all tackles, and it’s not even close. He’s also tied with Washington’s Geron Christian Sr. for most sacks given up (6).
But putting the stats aside for a moment, the biggest mystery with Thomas is how on one snap, he can look completely dominating then, on the next, look like a human turnstile for pass rushers looking to breach the sanctuary of the offensive backfield.
Not even Ereck Flowers struggled that much as a rookie, as he recorded 22 pressures in his first seven games when he was at left tackle for the Giants.
Hindsight is 20/20 right now, but you have to wonder if the initial plan was to put him next to guard Kevin Zeitler, where he might have benefitted more given Zeitler’s experience.
Of course, the decision by Nate Solder to opt-out due to COVID19 concerns threw a monkey wrench into that plan, leaving both Thomas and left guard Will Hernandez, who has had his struggles with consistency, to figure things out.
Hopefully, the more reps the two of them get together, the smoother their side of the operation becomes, and the more consistent Thomas becomes with his technique.
10. The COVID-19 pandemic wipes out the season.
Although there have been a few outbreaks among teams like the Titans, and Patriots to name a few, the league has done a pretty good job in keeping the virus from infiltrating its locker rooms to the point of creating mass-scale reshuffling of schedules.
As for the Giants, they had a couple of initial cases at the start of training camp that they could isolate and keep from spreading in the locker room.
Judge has reiterated his delight in how the players and staff have acted responsibly. He even went so far as to praise the group of players who were caught on video last weekend at a Manhattan eatery without (at least based on the video contents) facial coverings and without practicing social distancing.