Friday, December 9 2022

By Ralph Vacchiano
FOX Sports NFC East Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants‘ 2-0 start was a feel-good story and a welcome change for a franchise that has been down on its luck. But they had to know their start was part luck, part mirage.

They were never going to have any sustained success with an offense that just can’t move the ball.

In an era when almost every NFL team seems to be able to pass downfield at will, the Giants continue to provide the counterpoint to the offensive explosion. They did it again Monday night, in a 23-16 loss to the Dallas Cowboys that probably shouldn’t have been as close as it was. The Giants’ quarterback got pummeled. Their receivers dropped easy passes. Their best plays involved Daniel Jones running for his life.

They looked very much like what they are: a tragic combination of a mediocre quarterback, a porous offensive line and a very questionable group of receivers.

Teams generally don’t win many games with that group.

“We didn’t do enough to win,” Jones said after the game. “I’ve got to find a way to make a few more plays.”

Yes he does, but that’s not as easy as it sounds with this rag-tag, offensively challenged group. The fact that the Giants made enough plays to win their first two games really was a bit of a miracle. It took 164 rushing yards by Saquon Barkley, a fumbled punt, a missed field goal and a last-second two-point conversion for them to win their opener in Tennessee. And then they needed four field goals, including a 56-yarder in the closing minutes, to beat a bad Panthers team in Week 2.

At some point, they weren’t going to be able to rely on field goals and beneficial breaks, and that bill came due on Monday night against a Cowboys team that is a playoff contender, even with starting quarterback Dak Prescott still out. And how did the Giants respond to one of their biggest home games in years? With an offense that looked like it was running in slow motion and a quarterback getting sacked five times and seemingly hit a dozen more while playing behind an offensive line that was supposed to be improved from the disastrous unit of the past two years.

What went wrong?

“Everything,” said center Jon Feliciano. “Too many hits. Everyone knows we’ve got to help 8 [Jones], especially when he’s out there playing his balls off. He’s taking big hits, making plays with his legs. He did everything he could out there.”

That’s probably true. Jones was 20-of-37 for 196 yards and a game-ending interception on the final drive when his receiver, David Sills, fell down in his route. Jones also ran nine times for 79 yards, including a few runs that were designed, not just a panicked reaction.

But that’s really the problem. There wasn’t much more he could do. Because the offensive line struggled so much against a loaded Cowboys front with Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence (three sacks), Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka was forced to call a limited game. They ran a series of quick passes, with short drops and routes that have no time to develop.

It’s a pop-gun offense with no ammunition, because the Giants’ receivers aren’t really quick enough to get open just a few steps off the line.

That’s just who they are.

“To say that every game will play out like that, I don’t see that happening,” Jones said. “I’m confident in our guys.”

That’s nice, but his confidence sure does appear to be misplaced. His best receiver, Sterling Shepard, caught five passes for 49 yards and was carted off at the end of the game with a non-contact knee injury that the Giants fear will be season-ending. What he leaves behind are two players — Richie James (4-36) and Sills (2-20) — who should have battled for the fifth-receiver job, but might now have to be starters. The Giants could turn to Kenny Golladay, their $72 million bust, but his big moment on Monday night was a fourth-quarter drop. And then there’s Kadarius Toney, their talented former first-round pick, who got out of coach Brian Daboll’s doghouse only to land in his other regular spot — the injured list.

That leaves the Giants with the legs of Jones and Saquon Barkley. And Barkley did have another nice game: 14 carries for 81 yards, including a dazzling, darting, 36-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. But teams seem to have neutralized him as a receiver (4-45). Every time he tried to release in the flat or on a wheel route, the Cowboys were all over him. Their coverage made it clear that he was the one receiver they really feared.

So that’s where the Giants are: They play games hoping their defense can hold on long enough for Barkley to rip off a big run or for them to somehow, somewhere get a lucky break. Yes, their offense does look better than it looked last season. It looks competent, which is a major step up from the Joe Judge/Jason Garrett error.

But it’s still not good enough. They took a 13-6 lead on Barkley’s touchdown run with 5:31 left in the third quarter, but managed just 71 yards and a field goal on their next four possessions. And when the Giants got the ball back at their own 9, trailing by a touchdown with 1:45 remaining, Jones said he took the field thinking, “Let’s go score a touchdown.”

Yeah, good luck with that. The Giants went 12 yards on two plays before his receiver fell and the QB was picked off.

Nobody was blaming Jones, and they shouldn’t. This was on the offensive line, which was manhandled by the Cowboys. It was on the receivers and tight ends who just aren’t good enough to help. It’s on the fact that Daboll is going to need a lot more time and much better personnel to do what he was hired to do: Fix the offense.

The truth is, that was all pretty clear during New York’s 2-0 start, too. It was nice, but it was always a mirage.

Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys. He spent 22 years covering the Giants, Jets and NFL at large for SNY and the New York Daily News. He can be found on Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.

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