It’s already a ‘long season’ for the Giants

It is late early for the Giants.

Really and truly.

“We wake up (Monday), it’s already Thursday of the game week for us because we have a short week,” Joe Judge said not long after a terrible season-opener for the Giants.

Yup, it is Monday on the calendar but already Thursday (in a normal week when they play on Sunday) in the hearts and minds and practice schedule of the Giants. They have an extremely early quick turnaround, as they get their first road game of the season, Thursday night in Washington, in a “battle” of 0-1 teams in the NFC East. Essentially, the Giants get one full day to practice for this game — Tuesday — and they hit the rails for a Wednesday afternoon chartered train ride to Washington.

This is good. They did not get beat up badly — at least not physically — in their 27-13 loss to the Broncos and bodies are fresher now than they would be if the Thursday night game came a month or two from now. Plus, ridding their minds as soon as possible of how crummy they played, on offense and defense, in the 2021 opener is a positive development.

Joe Judge during the Giants’ Week 1 loss to the Broncos on Sept. 12, 2021.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

“We get to play some football again,” safety Logan Ryan said. “It’s honestly a positive after a loss. You have to play quicker and we’re excited for it. 

“We have work to do, but listen, man, this team is together, you don’t have to worry about that. Unfortunately, we’ve been here before, but it’s just one week in a season. It really doesn’t define you. What we do this next game is going to be more of a defining factor in how we respond. I encourage everyone to tune in, be excited and put work in. I won’t see my wife and kids as much as I want to this week. We have put it in on a short week, but she’ll understand.”

There is not a whole lot of understanding with the Giants nowadays, as their fan base dared to get excited for a new season and then got slapped into reality as the Broncos did whatever they pleased for three hours at MetLife Stadium. It is impossible to take the Giants seriously when they continue to lose so often.

Head coach Joe Judge afterward said, “It’s a long season … we literally have an entire season ahead of us, okay. Any other year, it was 16 games, we have 16 games ahead of us that we have to improve week by week and keep climbing.”

This is true, but also daunting. “Long season” often correlates to “bad season” and it is already a long season for the Giants, who get no benefit of the doubt until they show the only tangible results that matter: Winning games.

More that came out of the fifth consecutive season-opening loss for the Giants:

Look on the bright side

It is not a stretch to suggest the only positive to come out of this mess was that Saquon Barkley returned and appeared to get out of the game unscathed.  

All that pre-game speculation that Barkley would not be on a predetermined snap count limit? Of course that was nonsense. The Giants were not going to give their franchise running back a full load in his first game back off ACL surgery. He played almost half (48 percent) of the 61 offensive snaps — 29 to be exact. The first play of the 2021 season was a handoff to Barkley and he gained 5 yards, a promising start. It turned out to be his longest run of the day. He finished with 10 rushing attempts and 26 yards. He was targeted three times in the passing game and had one reception for 1 yard. He dropped one pass, and on his one and only catch on a screen, he stumbled a bit and had trouble keeping his footing.

Giants Saquon Barkley
Saquon Barkley gets stopped during the third quarter of the Giants’ loss to the Broncos on Sept. 12, 2021.
Bill Kostroun

“I made the first guy miss but I’ve got to find a way to stay on my feet,” Barkley said. “I don’t think that’s any indicator of my knee or anything like that. I guess that could be part of rust or probably overthinking it, so I don’t want to do either. I don’t want to overthink it. If it’s part of rust, let it be.”

New guy report

So, how did the new playmakers — they all missed significant time this summer dealing with physical issues — do in their Giants debuts?

Let’s start with Kadarius Toney. He only played five snaps in his NFL debut. It is even less conspicuous than that, as he was on the field for only two snaps in the first three quarters and got three snaps on the late garbage-time touchdown drive. What a letdown. He had two receptions for minus-2 yards.

“We did want to keep in mind that this was his first game back,” Judge said. “Look, we’re obviously looking to get K.T. involved as we go forward. He’s a key part of the offense. This guy’s done a good job in preparation. He’ll have more opportunities to make plays for us down the line.”

Kenny Golladay, the high-priced free agent from the Lions, was slowed most of training camp with a strained hamstring and did not play in any of the three preseason games. He got 52 of the 61 offensive snaps in the opener and checked in with four receptions (on six targets) for 64 yards. He was quiet during the meat of the game and had two catches totaling 30 yards with the Giants down 27-7 and throwing on every down late in the fourth quarter.

Giants Kenny Golladay
Kenny Golladay after catching four passes for 64 yards in his Giants debut on Sept. 12, 2021.
Bill Kostroun

Tight end Kyle Rudolph, the former Vikings standout, is coming off foot surgery and was brought along slowly in his first Giants camp. He played 47 snaps (77 percent), needed because Evan Engram was out with a calf injury. Rudolph was targeted five times and finished with two receptions for 8 yards.

Locating the edge rushers

This was yet another concern coming into the season that manifested itself in the opener. The hope from inside was the return from injury of Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines would enliven what in 2020 was tepid pass-rush production from the outside linebackers. The Giants did not get what they needed to start a new season. Carter, coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon, played 58 of the 66 defensive snaps and contributed four combined tackles and no statistical pressure on the quarterback. Ximines, in 29 snaps, contributed one assisted tackle and no statistical pressure on the quarterback. Rookie Azeez Ojulari, with 34 snaps in his NFL debut, got one of the Giants’ two sacks and added three combined tackles, one tackle for loss and one quarterback hit. Figure his playing time will increase. The Giants need more from Ximines and especially Carter.

It was not a good sign that Teddy Bridgewater, not exactly known as a gazelle in the pocket — he was sacked 39, 44 and 31 times in the three seasons he started at least 12 games in his career — ran free and easy and was able to elude would-be Giants pass rushers.

“He’s got a funny way of moving around in the pocket and getting out and scrambling,” Broncos tight end Noah Fant said. “It was good to see, man.”

It was not good to see out of the Giants’ defense.

“I said it since the Rutgers days, man, it was déjà vu,” safety Logan Ryan said. “He extends some plays, it’s magical stuff at times, but we expect to be better and we will be.”

Take a bath

Pat Shurmur, the Broncos offensive coordinator, did not get a game ball from head coach Vic Fangio, but Shurmur and Mike Shula, the quarterbacks coach, did get a cooler of water dumped on them by Fangio after the victory. Getting doused probably never felt as invigorating for Shurmur, who was fired by the Giants after going 9-23 in his two years as their head coach. Shurmur’s play calls kept the Giants’ defense off balance and he was able to scheme enough pass routes to find gaping openings in what is supposed to be a tight defensive backfield. Shurmur was at his best on third and fourth down, as the Broncos coveted a combined 10 of 18 on those downs to amass 35:08 in time of possession and keep the Giants’ offense off the field for long stretches.

“Coach Shurmur and coach Shula were part of the Giants organization,” Bridgewater said. “It was great to share that moment with those guys in the locker room. It’s a great feeling.”

No pep in his step

What happened to Jabrill Peppers? The guy never came off the field in 2020 and yet he was on the field for less than half (30 out of 66) of the snaps on defense. Logan Ryan, as usual, rarely came off (61 snaps). Xavier McKinney played 63 snaps and started along with Peppers and Ryan in a three-safety look. Unless Peppers is dealing with an undisclosed physical issue, this is quite strange and bears watching. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham likes to arrange and utilize his players according to specific game plan needs, which is why the lineup can look different on a week-to-week basis. Peppers, though, was a fixture in every package last season.

Line watch

Shane Lemieux, dealing with patella tendonitis in his knee, started at left guard but played only 17 of the 61 snaps on offense. The replacement was Ben Bredeson, acquired late in the preseason in a trade with the Ravens. Bredeson played 44 snaps, 72 percent of the plays on offense. There could be a changing of the guard in place on the offensive line.

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