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NFL: Week 1 leaves New York with Giant questions

Dave Gettleman promised a clean slate. Pat Shurmur said there was a different attitude in the building. There would be no repeat of last season’s locker room antics and rebellion, for sure.

We all kind of assumed the team would also be better on the field, too. But are they? There are a few areas that should be, but after the opening day loss to the Jaguars, some old faults showed their ugly faces.

Certainly, it is difficult to gauge any offense on one game, especially when that game pitted them against one of the best defenses in the NFL. There aren’t many teams boasting such a quality defensive backfield or defensive line, much less both like the Jaguars.

But still…

How good is the offense?

Odell Beckham put on a show for fans worried about any residual issues with his knee. He juked, he stuttered, and he took off at will. He was the best player on the field, including cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

He caught everything he could reach. With his wingspan and speed, that should include a lot of passes. Indeed, he wound up with 11 receptions for 111 yards. But the four other targets and catches that were negated by penalty raise some issues.

Eli answered nothing

Eli Manning came out firing with good efficiency. At least, the stats looked good. He hit his first ten passes, which was impressive. He also had two more wiped out by Erik Flowers penalties that killed the Giants’ first possession. One was a five-yard zip to Beckham. Tne other would have gone for over 20 yards to Evan Engram.

Things were looking good. Then Eli tried to throw the ball deeper and the home crowd saw what they saw last season. Eli was simply off. He overthrew Beckham on a post. Before that, pressure- again thanks to Flowers- forced Manning into an early decision. He guessed wrong. Beckham won outside position on Ramsey, but the ball was already in the air to the inside, where Ramsey defended it.

A streaking Sterling Shepard had to slow down for another pass that allowed the defender to knock it away, too.

Even on a pass he completed, Manning made a wide open Beckham reach low and out front to make a catch. That prevented the receiver from making a move for more yardage. Chest-high, it was a big gainer.

Pressure or no pressure, another Eli interception handed the Jaguars six points on a tipped pass.

Manning wasn’t terrible, but he wasn’t crisp on anything over ten yards. The question of whether Ben McAdoo handcuffed Manning for two years, or if the offensive line forced Manning to throw short too often, or… if Manning has lost his deep ball were in my mind watching Sunday’s action.

A very offensive lineman

Pat Shurmur made it a point to say right tackle Erik Flowers had some nice plays Sunday. Unfortunately, fans will remember how his two penalties in the first three plays negated receptions and left the Giants punting from their end zone.

They’ll also remember how Flowers appeared to be tossed aside by Yannick Ngakoue on Eli Manning’s tipped interception. Flowers explained that in the event of a blitz, he was responsible for a linebacker. The linebacker faked the blitz and Flowers flinched to his left enough to allow the end an almost unimpeded route to Manning.

Flowers also said he was surprised on the Giants’ first offensive play, expecting his man to be “faster”, which caused Flowers to become off-balance. It doesn’t explain why he stuck his foot out or how he can be surprised by the attack of a veteran the Giants have tons of film on.

There wasn’t a single offensive lineman with a clean day. Everyone got victimized by Jacksonville’s ferocious rush at least a couple of times. But Flowers is a target of Giants fans. If he doesn’t get it together, the fourth-year lineman will be blamed for any lack of offensive improvement.

The pass-catching tight end who didn’t

Evan Engram made a nice catch on the first drive that would have gone for 24 yards had Flowers not been called for his second penalty.

Things went downhill after that. Engram caught two short passes on the day. He had at least as many drops. He also found himself caught up in crowds that disrupted his route. He was a non-factor in the offense.

Engram led the team in dropped passes in 2017. He says he is working hard to eliminate them, but he is off to an inauspicious start.

That new running kid

Saquon Barkley provided the highlight of the game in the second half. Barkley, who was held to well under three yards per carry to that point, broke outside for a 68-yard touchdown run.

The run showed off his lateral movement, quick burst, strength, and open-field speed in one play. It also showed that Engram and wide receiver Sterling Shepard work hard on their blocks, even if Engram graded poorly overall.

There were a handful of 5-yard runs here and there, but Barkley was penned in or hit in the backfield way too often. It was a repeat of his lone preseason performance- one good run and a bunch of losses or short gains.

One big run per game gives us reason to watch, but the Giants need to do something to give Barkley more running room.

The defense looked different

In the Ben McAdoo term as coach, I could not understand if the Giants over-estimated their defensive line’s ability to rush or if they didn’t trust their pass coverage enough to blitz.

The new Giants 3-4 defense used a variety of well-disguised blitzes that excited the crowd watching. They were also quite effective.

They allowed Leonard Fournette about 4.5 yards per carry before he tweaked a hamstring and left the game. But overall, they seemed to contain the running attack.

Except for Bortles. One of last year’s Achilles heels showed up again. Bortles fooled everyone with a designed run to his left that went for 41 yards. Without that play, the Giants held Jacksonville under 100 yards rushing.

But the play happened. There were also quite a few times blocking backs snuck out for short, first-down-gaining passes. Keeping the passer and backs contained is a problem the Giants need to address.

They shut out the Jaguars in the second half. There were only two plays of more than 20 yards- a massive improvement over 2017. But there are enough concerns- including way more explosive offenses on their schedule- to say the defense is that much better.

Not-so-special returns

In the preseason, the Giants used a couple of returners who looked like significant upgrades over what Giants fans watched the past few years.

None of them made it through the final roster cuts, so New York picked up Kaelin Clay. Clay couldn’t crack the Buffalo Bills wide receiver ranks last season and was not a very good return guy.

Clay returned three punts for 4 yards and muffed the one that prevented Eli from a shot at a one-minute drill to win the game.

Shurmur talked about using Beckham on punts and Barkley on kickoffs. It would be less risky to call one of their preseason returners and make a roster spot.

What to make of it all

The Giants were not favored to win this game. Jacksonville came within a few minutes of making it to the Super Bowl last season. But the Giants played them close enough to win, and that leaves a sour taste in Giants fans’ mouths.

Erik, Eli, and Evan… penalties, interceptions, and drops. How much was the Jaguars’ defense and how much if it the realization that this is what the Giants have to work with?

Next week, they face a Dallas team coming off a bad loss of their own. New York can cure a lot of ills with a romp over the Cowboys. A close game or a loss will be difficult to bear, especially with the Texans, Saints, Panthers, Eagles, and Falcons lined up for the next five games.