The Giants Have Turned the Corner

This is the first post during the 2020 season. There is a reason for probably the longest period of silence on this blog in the 14 years we’ve been writing. It is called REBUILDING. Twitter followers keep seeing the same #Rebuilding hashtag on a regular basis because that is the story of the season. Finally we have some good news to discuss… a 2 game win streak, 3-7, Joe Judge leadership, and some bright spots coming together for this team.

THE GIANTS HAVE FINALLY TURNED THE CORNER.

Patrick Graham and the Giants Defense are doing really well. They are keeping the team in most games. They have the 11th ranked defense and the ranking would be even better if it was adjusted by the Offense. As an example, the Offense is ranked 30th, dragging down Defensive measures via time of possession. Offensive turnovers are 26th ranked, but Defensive Turnovers are ranked 4th in the NFL, starkly showing the disparity. Xavier McKinney will likely come back after the bye; Giants Nation eagerly awaits what they will look like when he adds that dimension of speed and game awareness to an already good unit. Remember that one of the reasons why McKinney will help the Defense is that he can be used in so many ways. Down the road, that will aid unpredictability, making the Defense even better than it is right now. That is exciting. The Defense will be one edge pass rusher away from being a total monster. That is extremely exciting.

James Bradberry has been the best player on the entire team. What a Free Agent signing! He is almost a shutdown corner, having a tremendous year. PFF has 13 Cornerbacks who are statistically ranked above him, but that is irrelevant to me because Bradberry is taking away half the field.

Let’s go right to the crux of what determines Giants failure and Giants success… The Offensive Line. We have been arguing it over and over till we are <Blue> in the face that this Franchise has been horrible because of the reactive response to this problem. The time for being proactive was 2010-2012. Reese missed that opportunity, and the Franchise has been behind the 8-ball ever since. Even when presented with a gift in 2016, the falling Tunsil (whom we had as our #2 ranked player in the entire Draft), Reese never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Enough of the past, let’s discuss the present…

Andrew Thomas is beginning to improve. He is still ranked near the bottom of all NFL Tackles, and the worst of the 4 “elite” prospects. But he is beginning to execute. He had only one miscue vs the Eagles. Think about that when you think about Ereck Flowers, who had ~1 miscue each series.

OL Coach Marc Colombo, before his firing: “(Thomas) has a new air of confidence. The past couple weeks he has played really well. His timing has been better. His pass sets have been better. His run blocking has been better. We just have to keep growing. I’ve noticed a more confident Andrew the past few weeks.”

Shane Lemieux is subbing for Will Hernandez, who has missed 2 starts due to Covid. I am not sure if it is confirmation bias, but I like what I see from Lemieux. PFF does not. But Baldinger is excited about the same things I am.

#BigBlue is back. #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/2YhSfJX22U— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) November 16, 2020<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>.<a href=”https://twitter.com/Eagles?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@Eagles</a&gt; <a href=”https://twitter.com/Giants?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@giants</a&gt; on 4-2! This is the play where you take control of the NFC East. No one is laughing anymore. When you convert this; it’s far more than a 2 yard TD run. It’s a “Cultural Change”.

There are less miscommunications on assignments with Lemieux in the rotation. Stunts and pass offs seem to happen more smoothly. So Lemieux may not yet be the best pass protector (lol, he is statistically the worst), but at least he is on a body.

Gates is being dissed by PFF. But he is moving up slowly in the rankings, as he is improving the last few weeks.

Matt Peart will be taking Fleming’s job soon enough. If you unclick the minimum snaps toggle for Offensive Tackles, Peart is ranked 15th in the NFL given only 107 snaps. He is obviously being groomed. So far so good.

The Giants need to keep throwing Draft resources at this group. Do not leave it to chance. NUKE IT. Have depth for crying out loud. We are sick and tired about being sick and tired. Challenge or replace Hernandez, Fleming et al with better players who will give Jones more confidence under Center.

A few days ago there was the big news item that OL Coach Marc Colombo was fired. As details have emerged, the story is that Judge got more hands on with the OL over the past few games, because he believed the players were not getting taught proper technique from Colombo. (There are conflicting reports indicating Colombo did help Thomas.) Judge brought in an assistant Dave DeGuglielmo (whom he worked with in New England) to help with the coaching/teaching of technique. Colombo resisted and was fired. There are a lot of things here. (1) The OL improvement was accelerated when Judge got involved. (2) The young OL can improve if given proper coaching. (3) Joe Judge is a Head Coach who has the necessary leadership to get the Giants to the next level. These three things are all huge. By hook or by crook, Judge is going to get a good teacher for this young OL and get them where they need to be. That is enormous. Judge is building a house, and the foundation of that house is the line of scrimmage. The OL is the key to better QB play. Everything will flow for the team once the OL is playing effectively. We see from the Colombo switch how valuable instruction is to the development of the unit. Time will tell if improvement continues. There is a competing narrative about Judge micromanaging the OL, but I read the past 3 weeks as having a positive implication for the OL and for the entire team. Judge has prioritized the improvement of the OL. He will not be passive about this crucial part of the team.

Let’s look at the pattern of Judge’s actions as Head Coach. He cuts Baker loose. He sits and disciplines his veteran WR Golden Tate. He fires an assistant Coach who does not put the team ahead of himself. No one is questioning Judge’s authority. And no one questions his willingness to do everything he can to win.

We started writing this blog post before the Colombo incident. And 2 days after we got the cherry on the cake for perspective on this turnaround… the words from Bill Parcells himself, confirming what we are seeing.

“I’m fired up about them,” Bill Parcells told Newsday from his home in Florida. “They’re getting better. They’re improving. I like their coach. I just know he has established some law and order, and I think that’s a good thing.”

Remember, the turnaround for Parcells came in 1984, after a 3-12-1 rookie HC season, when he was resolved to do it his way with his players. Veteran instigators like Gary Jeter were shipped out and Parcells let it be known he was in charge. Law & Order. The Giants went 9-7 and got to the playoffs. The rest, they say, is history.

Parcells likes what he sees from the Defense and he likes Daniel Jones too.

Speaking of Jones, it is impossible to imagine the Giants succeeding without a Franchise QB. The 3 core foundational elements to succeeding in the NFL are QB, Protect QB, Rush the QB. It is not an accident that Daniel Jones did not turn the ball over in the last 2 starts, and the Giants won both games. Can he stop hemorrhaging the ball? To this blogger, he is a Franchise QB if he protects the ball, and he is a replaceable starter/backup if he cannot. In the first 8 games, he averaged over 1.5 turnovers per game, turning the ball over 2X per game in 5 games and once per game in 3 other starts. Tying some of this back to the lack of protection he has received from the OL, Jones has been sacked an AVERAGE of 3X per game. He has the 3rd most sacks in the NFL and is similarly the 3rd highest sacked QB per pass attempt. So two things need to get better- more consistent QB protection AND more deliberate ball protection.

Get. It. Through. Your. Head. Throw the ball away. Take the Sack. Less is more.

So where are the Giants if
The OL comes together?
Daniel Jones protects the ball?
They get a pass rusher?

The Giants can be fairly competitive. They have hung in games against teams with winning records, like the Rams and Bucs.

Notice how things are slowly coming together WITHOUT Saquon Barkley. Running backs are hood ornaments. Someone asked on Twitter where the Giants would be with Barkley this year- my answer was 3-7. Gallman has quietly scored 5 TDs in the last 4 weeks. RBs need to block for the QB and catch passes in a passing league. Passing is what is driving this league.

Just because the Giants are getting on track does not mean that Gettleman should continue to be the GM. He makes mistakes and bad decisions regularly. The team should have been here, rebuilding in 2018. He blew 2 years on “adult” Pat Shurmur. He blew 2 years trying to win now. He blew 2 years before drafting Thomas, Peart and Lemieux and finally going after the unit that was responsible for the decade of misery. Deandre Baker was cited as having red flags with “questionable attitude” before the Draft, yet the Giants GM traded UP into Round 1 for this risk. Between wasting picks on Barkley (yes, a waste) and Baker, blowing an early Round 3 pick on Leonard Williams and then having to tag him, signing a bunch of FAs in 2018 who were duds, and a series of other bad moves, Gettleman must move on. The Giants must move on. Reese never traded down in 11 years as a GM. Gettleman has never traded down in 8 years as a GM. Is this the guy you want making these decisions? I do not believe he puts the franchise in the best position to be successful.

Cincinnati can be a win. The Giants play 4 teams after that with a combined winning record of 25-13. So do not get too high if they are 4-7 and do not get too low if they are 4-11.

Judge and Graham are building. The franchise is finally rebuilding. Hold onto the ball, Jones. Protect Jones. Keep investing in the OL. Get a pass rusher in 2021. The Giants are on the way back. They have turned the corner. This is how you rebuild. We see it. Parcells sees it. Judge is putting them in a position to compete. Between developing a lot of young players and adding a couple more, this team will be in a position to start winning. NY Giants football is back.

Camp Covid

The impact of Covid on the NFL has been significant. Posting within Covid has been resisted here because the general information vacuum is much larger. We would already be finished with two preseason games by now, but have none. Instead we get to comment on a good play in scrimmage by a random player. Jumping to conclusions without at least seeing some contact in preseason games makes no sense. Even with preseason it’s a fool’s errand. Trivia question- In 2008 the Detroit Lions went 0-16. What was their preseason record? Yes it was 4-0. So all you want to do is look for individual performances, and we don’t even have that this year.

This season is one large question mark. September will be scrimmage and October will be rounding into form. There simply is no substitute for live action. Since football injuries are such a huge concern for coaches, they’ll forego the contact as much as possible. Fans are thus left with guessing and extrapolation. Noise.

With that qualification, we’ll make some observations that we think are correct but admit are part conjecture. At least we’re warning you of the greater chance for error in what is here.

Judge vs Shurmur. Judge’s words have everyone excited. His actions are clearly sourced from the Parcells-Belichick tree. The failure of the past 2 years can be sourced to Shurmur and Gettleman. More on Gettleman later.

Shurmur is a stark reminder of the difference between a (good) coordinator and a (bad) head coach. There were 3 things that disappointed me greatly last year. 1. Daniel Jones’ ball protection. 2. Will Hernandez’s run blocking. 3. Lorenzo Carter’s disappearing act. My sense was that all three things listed were addressable and correctable. This was palpable underachievement. I believe that Judge has the ability to fix at least one, possibly two, and hopefully all three things. Just imagine where the Giants can be with those added improvements?!

Gettleman made a lot of moves in 2018 which said “win now.” I don’t want to rehash them. This year he went for youth and depth at Offensive Line, which showed more patience and deliberate focus on the future than rushing for high priced Free Agents (“B” players at “A” prices) right now. The team still lacks a pass rusher. Markus Golden compromises pocket integrity in order to get sacks, so the team still lacks the true consistent ability to get to the QB. That’s ok. It’s a genuine rebuild, where the team will ideally get that player in the 2021 Draft. This path is more robust. It comes with a more lasting payoff.

Addition by Subtraction. We tweeted about this when the news hit that Nate Solder would be opting out due to Covid. I genuinely hope this does not come off as being callous. I’m sure Solder is doing what is right by his family.

Solder sitting out is a big win for the Giants. The Giants are in a rebuild. You may as well get Andrew Thomas started at Left Tackle as soon as possible. I wasn’t happy about Thomas taking Right Tackle and switching once Solder was done. Thomas is the future. Solder is the past. Onward.

The opportunity of 2020. Fans are trying to envision a way to go 9-7 and make the playoffs. They are hopeful that Judge will put the discipline back into the team. They are hopeful that position coaches like Marc Columbo will turn around the OL. They want tangible results in the won-loss column. I am as well, BUT NOT IN 2020. Manage your expectations. The opportunity of 2020 is getting snaps and experience for this younger roster. This season will be a success if Covid doesn’t interrupt the opportunity of the Giants to get these young players to learn the new system, to communicate with one another and PLAY in the NFL. If we get a 12-14 game season where the Giants players are competitive by the end of the season, that will be a successful year. As modest as those goals are for 2020, the following season the expectations from this NY Giants blogger will rise considerably. I’m excited about the 2020* asterisk paying off big in 2021.

Surveying the 2020 Giants

In the last 3 years, the Giants are 12-36, which is THE SINGLE WORST RECORD IN THE NFL over that period of time. Consider that the Browns were 0-16 in that period.

Giants fans are optimistic. We put out a poll for what fans expect from the first 5 games of 2020. This way we are able to gauge sentiment. I clipped that coupon because the Giants will be underdogs in all 5 games.

PIT. At Chi. SF. At Lar. At Dal.

Here are the results.

The expectation from the mode and majority of fans is a 2-3 record. If the Giants go 2-3 I’ll be pleasantly surprised. This is a tougher portion of the schedule. I believe their best chances are the first 2 games, where they face PIT and at Chi. I expect them to be bigger underdogs in the other 3 games.

The pure math based on a sum of expected value for the moneyline gives the following (games 1&2 available, estimated for Games 3-5) chances for victory- 36%, 31%, 28%, 36%, and 25% = 1.56 games. So the math says they’ll win between 1 & 2 games. The bright side of a tough start to the season is that if the Giants can somehow pull out a 3-2 record, they will most likely be playoff bound.

Not so fast, says Wonder: “The Giants are 50% to win 0 games and 50% to win 1 game, there is no chance they win 2 games.” I think the only opponent Wonder (at this early juncture) does not respect very much is the Bears, so he is counting the other 4 games as a loss.

This entire exercise is a reminder that the Giants are young and their schedule is not easy. They face the NFC West, who was a combined 38-25-1 last season. One of the 3rd  place teams they draw, TB, now has a veteran presence in Brady and Gronk, so that game will not be easy. Dallas and Philadelphia have swept the Giants the last 3 seasons.

Where are the Giants as they head into 2020? Rebuilding. That’s where they are. Everyone is excited about Joe Judge. Count me among them. People around the league are in consensus that he’s got the Belichick/Saban right stuff. He’s certainly saying the right things. And he’s got the Giants new draft picks saying the right things.

Get to work.

Is a new head coach going to make a difference in Season 1? I tend to think not. He’s inheriting the single weakest team of the last 3 years. I won’t be very popular with this remark, but Gettleman needed to take Darnold and then he’d have DE Josh Allen the following year. That was the way to rebuild. We said Barkley was a luxury the Giants could not afford. Two losing seasons later I think we can all acknowledge that RB does not rebuild. QB OL and DE rebuilds. The 3 fundamentals are QB, protect QB, and rush the QB.

It was a major effort from Mr. Hogmollie, Dave Gettleman, who noted after selecting Tackle Andrew Thomas that

“We want to fix this Offensive Line once and for all.”

Where was this focus in 2018-2019? Beyond free agency salvage (sorry, we said Solder was a 2 year patch and that’s exactly what he was), it’s been Hernandez and little else. This year we got Thomas, Peart and Lemieux, R1 R3 & R5 concentrated focus. This is how you rebuild. These are the lasting changes that were needed in 2018 which are coming 2 years later. Better late than never.

In 2018 Gettleman got a grownup as his head coach and a hood ornament at 1.02. Win now.

In 2020 Gettleman got a Belichick disciple and a reload at OL. Rebuild.

This is a future I can believe in. Just do me one favor. When Barkley is doing amazing things in 2021 in the 4th year of his rookie deal, please don’t tell me that he was the pick. Gettleman put the cart before the horse and now he’s finally getting the horses. Once and for all.

2020 NFL Draft: 7 Round + UFA Review

Two parts to this post. Part 1 is a review of Day 3 and the early UDFA signings. Part 2 are general comments from the weekend’s Draft.

Part 1

It is a good reminder for regular readers and a good moment for new ones to explain what is happening in later rounds.

  • Once you get past Round 3 and into Round 4 the talent level starts to drop off precipitously
  • ESPN had a statistic which is worth noting- 65% of NFL rosters are comprised of Round 4+ PLUS UDFA signings
  • This lot is a continuing turnstile, so while many rosters will perpetually contain these names, few will “survive” beyond a few years
  • For our draft analyst, Wonder, he is looking for any signs of potential.. the pros are just much bigger and much faster

I am setting the table for a reason. Our draft analyst does not typically get excited about many of these players, but when he does, it is worth paying attention.

Without further ado, here are the few that drew comment from Wonder.

4.110 CB Darnay Holmes: I like the pick.

7.218 LB Carter Coughlin (pictured above): I kind of like Coughlin in 7th rd… May be a long shot, but worth a try IF he can be a “situational pass rusher.”

UDFA WR Austin Mack: I kind of like Austin Mack as an UDFA.

UDFA RB Javon Leake: I LOVE LEAKE AS AN UDFA !!! I think he can play.

Part 2

There have been 4 draft picks that really excited me in the past ~20 years. I was trying to distill what these guys had in common, and I think it was a combination of special talent, perceived value, and a fit for need. Those 4 players:

2002 1.14 TE Jeremy Shockey

2015 2.33 S Landon Collins

2018 2.34 G Will Hernandez

2020 2.36 S Xavier McKinney

These 4 picks were guys who I thought were fantastic selections for where they were taken and what they would deliver for the franchise. While Hernandez has started all 32 games in his first 2 seasons, frankly his second year has been well below where I was expecting to see him. His run blocking is disappointing. Considering all of the coaching failures at this positional unit, I am (pardon the pun) guardedly hopeful that new OL coach Marc Colombo can help Hernandez reach some of the potential which I saw at the time of the Draft.

Landon Collins was everything I hoped for and more. He became all Pro in 2016 but injuries have slowed him down. We always knew he was limited in coverage skills, and that has held him back from being an elite player. In 2016, he was elite.

I have opined on Jeremy Shockey numerous times over the years. My only filter on this player is that he needed a Bill Parcells coach in the worst way. This elite TE wanted the ball on every play. What does it mean when you are All-Pro in your rookie year and then Pro Bowl in a few more yet do not reach your career potential? It means to me that you underachieved because coaching failed you. Fassel let the rookie flourish in 2002.  2003 was a disaster and the coach was gone. Pope failed to teach Shockey to MISS the other player to protect his body, with the garbage idea that you weren’t playing hard enough if you weren’t playing hurt. Importantly, Coughlin ‘the rules guy’ did not have a different set of rules for this alpha. I am reminded of a great story that Bill Belichick told about Lawrence Taylor.

The greatness of Parcells was that he knew how to get greatness out of his special players. He DID have a different set of rules for these players. It wasn’t to placate them. Parcells was never a “players coach.” It was to make compromises with them and manage them so that they delivered what they could every Sunday. Taylor said of Parcells in hindsight, “that’s my boy.” Parcells had Taylor’s back. Taylor had Parcells’ back. They both supported one another. That’s what the alphas need to reach greatness.

And now we get to McKinney. Was McKinney the best player in the Draft? Certainly not. He was #19 on our Top 50 Board. If the Giants picked him at 1.04 I would be pissed. That would be a colossal waste of value. What gets me excited about McKinney is that the Giants got two Round 1 picks (him and Thomas) for the price of one. Frankly, I believe that getting McKinney in Round 2 made this draft. If we can get one of these late rounders/UDFAs like Holmes, Coughlin, Mack, or Leake to hit, then it will be excellent.

A couple of extra comments on Wonder’s Draft Board et al. He did not have Ross Blacklock, Yetur Gross-Matos, Zach Baun, and AJ Epenesa on his Top 50 despite consensus mocks having these players significantly higher. When the dust settled, NONE ended up being drafted in Round 1 and they were selected at 2.40 , 2.38, 3.74, and 2.54. His #1 Biggest Underrated Player of 2020, WR Chase Claypool, went 2.49 to the Pittsburgh Steelers.