Another week, another backbreaking Daniel Jones interception, another loss for the New York Giants. Big Blue dropped to 0-4 on Sunday, falling 17-9 to the Los Angeles Rams. The game started about as poorly as possible for New York, and looked to be shaping up as a second consecutive blowout at the hands of a NFC West opponent. The Giants went three and out on the game’s opening possession. The Rams then took the ball and marched for a 12-play, 65-yard touchdown drive. From then on, however, the defense stiffened. The Giants forced one fumble, five punts, and allowed only ten more points the rest of the way.
It was New York’s offense that once again left much to be desired. Jones finished 23 of 36 with an interception and just 5.3 yards per pass attempt. No Giants pass catcher finished with over 50 yards receiving. When Big Blue did move the ball, an inability to capitalize in the red zone left them kicking field goals instead of scoring touchdowns.
Near the end of the second quarter, the Giants recovered a fumble at the Rams’ 34-yard line. After getting one first down, they had to settle for three thanks in part to a Kevin Zeitler false start penalty. On the Giants’ second possesion of the second half, they put together a balanced drive deep into Rams territory. However, an illegal formation penalty and a false start by Kaden Smith halted momentum in the red zone, and New York was once again forced to kick three. These are the types of miscues a talent-poor team like the Giants can’t afford to make.
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The Giants’ biggest red zone blunder was Jones’ game-ending interception. New York got the ball with 2:05 left in the fourth quarter, with the chance to score a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie the game. A 33-yard catch and run by Darius Slayton, along with some clutch Jones scrambles, put the Giants in the red zone once more. On a second and five from the Rams’ 18, Jones moved to his right and forced a throw to Damion Ratley along the sideline. The ball was picked off by a diving Darious Williams, which vanquished any hopes of a Big Blue comeback.
It may be difficult for fans to accept moral victories after years of losing, but the Giants did show development they can build upon. Coming into the game, New York was dead last in the NFL in total rushing yards. Against the Rams, they rushed for 136 yards with 5.4 yards per attempt. The offensive line still struggled in pass protection, especially early, but they finally got some push in the run game. New York also entered Sunday allowing opponents to convert a league-high 58.1 percent of their third downs. The Rams coverted just 5 of their 13 third downs, or 38.46 percent. These are two important areas in which New York made significant strides. If they can maintain these improvements, and better their red zone efficiency and explosive-play ability, this team can play their way out of the league’s bottom tier.
For a closer look at Big Blue’s individual performances from Sunday’s loss, here are your Week 4 “Podium/Sodium Players”, i.e., three players Giants fans would like to reward, and three they might be feeling a bit salty about.
Gold Medal: ILB Blake Martinez
Martinez has been a steady presence on the Giants’ podium this year. He again led the team in tackles with 13, including eight solo. His ability to flow sideline to sideline in the run game is something New York hasn’t had at linebacker in nearly a decade. He was great all game at diagnosing screens and swing passes, breaking quickly to make tackles for short gains. Martinez has already proven to be an indispensable part of an improved Giants defense.
Silver Medal: C Nick Gates
Gates entered the game with the most challenging task of all: block Aaron Donald. Consider the task completed, as Donald only registered two tackles and half a sack on the day. Plus, Gates’ extracurricular jousting with Donald in the third quarter showed the kind of fight and tenacity this team needs. You also have to give Gates credit for the Giants’ improved run game. Much of New York’s effective running came between the tackles, where Gates and his flanking guards created a solid push.
Bronze Medal: K Graham Gano
It’s a bad sign that all the Giants’ points over the last two games came from field goals, but Gano has been reliable when called upon. He went three for three against the Rams, and has made nine of his ten attempts this season. His only miss was on a 57-yarder in Chicago. Big Blue’s kicker position was thrown into flux following Aldrick Rosas‘ legal problems this summer, but Gano has come in and settled it down nicely.
Salty: TE Evan Engram
Three disappointing games to start the season put Engram in Giants fans’ doghouse. A six-catch, 35-yard performance against the Rams won’t get him out of it. Engram continues to underperform his draft position and his level of importance on this team. With Saquon Barkley out for the year and Sterling Shepard still sidelined with turf toe, Engram needs to step up as New York’s primary offensive weapon. His utter failure to do so thus far doesn’t bode well for the Giants’ offense this season, nor for his future in New York.
Saltier: WR Golden Tate
Tate is another player who has failed to step up in the absence of Barkley and Shepard. He had a paltry four catches for 20 yards against the Rams, and has yet to crack 50 yards receiving in a game this season. He struggles to seperate from coverage and hasn’t been the dynamic yards-after-catch threat he has been in years past. Right now, Tate is a complete non-factor. For a player with the third-highest salary cap hit on the team, that’s unacceptable. It’s beginning to seem that signing him in free agency has been one of Dave Gettleman’s worst decisions as the general manager.
Saltiest: QB Daniel Jones
Many were expecting Jones to take a leap in his second season. Instead, at least so far, he’s regressed. He’s fumbling less than as a rookie, but he’s still throwing awful interceptions. Last year, those mistakes came alongside big plays and impressive downfield throws. This year, his penchant for high-difficulty completions has all but vanished.
Jones is getting very little help from his teammates. He was sacked five times in Los Angeles, and none of his skill position players are making plays for him. He actually played a clean game until the devestating interception on the Giants’ final drive. At some point, though, your quarterback needs to be the driving force of your offense. Jones has 12 more games to prove he can be that for Big Blue. If he doesn’t, the clamoring for Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields will get even louder.