The New York Giants fell to the Jacksonville Jaguars 20-15 at the Meadowlands Sunday afternoon and the offense failed to produce when it mattered most.
The Giants have arguably one of the most talented rosters offensively on paper, but the biggest takeaway from Week 1 was the offensive line play. After signing offensive tackle Nate Solder this offseason, New York felt that they might have finally solidified the O-line, although this was not the case on Sunday.
New York was forced to move last years left tackle, Ereck Flowers, to the right side to help make the former New England Patriot’s transition smoother. However, both sides of the line were dominated by the stingy Jaguars front seven as Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue had their way with the Giants all day. Pro Football Focus gave Flowers an overall grade of 48.3 while Solder had the best ranking on the Giants line with 67.1.
Rookie guard Will Hernandez had an average debut for the Big Blue and, at times, looked like a true rookie. Eli Manning had virtually no time under center and being as immobile as he is outside the pocket he simply could not make any plays.
Manning finished the game 23-37 for 224 yards and one costly interception that changed the entire outcome of the game. The Giants were down four with possession of the ball inside their own territory when the offensive line crumbled; forcing Eli to rush a pass while being hit that Jack picked off and returned for a touchdown. The 37-year-old was sacked twice, hit eight times and hurried on nearly fifty percent of his throws Sunday afternoon.
The biggest highlight of the game came in the fourth quarter when rookie sensation Saquon Barkley busted loose down the sideline for a 68 yard touchdown, the first of his career. The Penn. State All-American was drafted for moments like these, but if you simply take away the long run then Barkley averaged just two yards per carry for 38 yards, and was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on seven of his 19 rushing attempts.
The offensive line must improve if New York is going to have any shot of winning the NFC East as Barkley won’t have these fifty-plus yard runs every week.
The second takeaway for the Big Blue in Week 1 was the dominant performance by Odell Beckham Jr. The fifth year wide out was coming off of a season ending ankle injury in 2017 and was facing off with the NFL’s most dominant cornerback, Jalen Ramsey. The LSU product stepped up to the challenge and caught 11 of 15 targets for 111 yards. He sprung loose for what would have been an open touchdown in the first half, but a pressured Manning was forced to get rid of the ball quickly and ultimately overthrew OBJ in the end zone.
If New York can get this type of production from their number one receiver, especially against top ranked defenses and corners, then the G-Men are in a really good spot this fall.
Special teams will endure a lot of the blame for the opening day loss after Kaelin Clay muffed a punt in the final minute, handing the game to the Jaguars, although there are multiple reasons that the Giants left MetLife with a loss.
New York’s inability to score in the red zone while settling for two field goals was a major factor. New head coach Pat Shurmur (third takeaway, questionable play calling) going for it on fourth and two at the Jacksonville 38 in the third quarter and coming up a yard short after running it up the middle against a top-five run defense. Manning’s headset malfunctioning early in the second half that forced the Giants to take a timeout and one that they could have used in the final two minutes of the game.
The list goes on and on, and yes the muffed punt didn’t help, but the offense did not produce when the organization needed them to the most.
The defense on the other hand played exceptionally well. They held Jacksonville to just 14 points as a unit and the secondary did a great job keeping the Jags’ receivers in check.
Janoris Jenkins had a timely interception in the first half when Jacksonville was driving and nearly had another in the red zone after jumping an outside route near the goal line. Landon Collins showed flashes of his 2016 self and the defensive line gave Blake Bortles trouble in the pocket.
Going forward, if the Giants defense can create more turnovers and play like they did on Sunday, and if the offensive line tightens their mechanics for Manning and Barkley, they will win a lot of football games in 2018.
Week 1 was a very tough matchup against a 2017 AFC finalist and New York should have come away with a win. It only gets tougher from here, but Sunday night in Arlington will give the Giants another chance to prove to America that they have turned things around and belong in any type of playoff conversation.