The first week of the NFL regular season always brings an added level of excitement and intensity. 32 NFL teams all head into week one with a fresh start and renewed hope.
The New York Giants made a number of changes in the offseason. The goal of getting back to the playoffs has come with a new message of less talk and more action.
But there’s more to this for the Giants than just restoring hope in a return to the postseason. It became crucial for one of the league’s oldest franchises to repair their credibility with the fans.
Last season, the Giants were stale on offense, they were predictable. The defense struggled stopping the run and the pass. The entire team was plagued with drama off the field, for a variety of reasons.
But wait, there was more.
The head coach was overwhelmed and a disaster. The general manager was out of excuses. This was a team in need of change, across the board.
The Giants now have a new general manager, coaching staff, and starting running back. They also have their star wide receiver back from injury with a brand new contract in his pocket. That’s the foundation for a much-needed new approach.
Change, however, takes time for everyone. Especially for a team that was stuck in their lukewarm ways. A clear indication of this was their season-opening 20-15 defeat to the Jacksonville Jaguars, at MetLife Stadium.
Here are my three takeaways from the Giants loss to the Jaguars:
The Ereck Flowers Dilemma
Is this really a dilemma anymore? What doesn’t warrant a debate is the fact that Flowers is a liability, no matter where you put him on the offensive line.
On the opening drive of the season, Flowers committed two penalties. The second one, a holding call, negated a 34-yard catch by Evan Engram. Flowers was also beat on multiple occasions by Jacksonville’s pass rush, specifically in the second half on a play where Manning’s throw was tipped and returned for a pick-6 by Myles Jack. This ultimately proved to be the difference in the game.
I give Flowers credit for accepting the move from the left side of the line to the right, even though he didn’t really have much of a choice. New head coach Pat Shurmur tried to help him early on, with a few key in-game adjustments to improve the protection. But it won’t distance anyone from the thought process that the offensive line still underperformed and Flowers was again a major reason why.
Assessing Flowers isn’t coming from just this one game, it’s his overall body of his work which has fans frustrated. The Giants pumped a lot of money into the offensive line, specifically the left side, in the offseason. They gambled on keeping Flowers and moving him away from Manning’s blindside. But there’s sufficient reason for Manning to be just as concerned about having Flowers in front of him now.
Shurmur would be doing his coaching staff, and players, a disservice by not strongly considering taking now as an opportunity to consider parting ways with Flowers.
The Saquon Barkley Effect
When the Giants drafted Barkley, with the number two overall pick, it backed up new general manager Dave Gettleman’s promise to bring life back to their run-game. So far, mission accomplished.
There was a roar from the crowd at MetLife when the offense took the field for the first time. The return of Odell Beckham Jr. to the lineup shouldn’t be overlooked, he didn’t look rusty at all. But it’s hard to argue against the presence of Barkley as the other reason why the home crowd was so jacked up at the first sight of the team’s offensive unit.
It was a sluggish first half for the entire team, Barkley included. But his 68-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter made it a ballgame again. In that one run, Barkley showed everyone why he’s so dynamic. He’s 230 pounds and turns the corner on the defense like he’s 190 pounds.
Barkley’s a playmaker, he’s a three-down back with home run capability. The Giants can feel good about having their running back for the next decade.
The Defense Stepped Up Big in The Second Half
This game ultimately was decided on a special teams blunder, when Kaelin Clay fumbled a punt return. It took away an opportunity for Eli Manning to have one last chance at leading the Giants to victory.
But that possibility never would have come to fruition if not for how the defense played in the second half. They shut the Jaguars down after halftime and gave the offense multiple opportunities.
New defensive coordinator James Bettcher brings an aggressive scheme to the Giants which gives plenty of opportunity to make big plays. Janoris Jenkins had a team-high seven tackles with an interception. He also broke up a pass by Blake Bortles which helped prevent a touchdown late in the game.
There still is room for improvement, they started off the game slow. They also missed Olivier Vernon, their best pass rusher was out with a high ankle sprain. But there was enough shown in the second half to feel good about the direction Bettcher could have the defense in by mid-season.