After the Giants debut to the 2020 season on Monday, Sept. 14, it is clear that there have been some improvements under new head coach Joe Judge. The Giants overall record in the past three seasons is 12-36, which is the worst in the NFL among that span.
It has been tough to be a big blue fan since their last Super Bowl victory in 2011, with the past three seasons being the most brutal. The Giants were not going to go from the worst team in the league to world beaters overnight, so while it is disappointing that they lost on “Monday Night Football,” even the most pessimistic fans should notice the gradual signs of improvement.
For example, the improvement of the pass protection was evident. Giants quarterback Daniel Jones got sacked three times, but also had plenty of time to throw on the majority of his drop backs, which is new to Giant fans. This newfound clean pocket rubbed off on Jones, who connected with Darius Slayton on a 50-yard touchdown pass at the beginning of the second quarter.
Jones threw for 279 yards with a pair of touchdowns in the loss, and he had a mixed bag performance himself. He showed just how high his ceiling is with the most impressive 19 play drive of his young career against one of the NFLs best defenses, only to throw a bad interception at the goal line when he should have just thrown the ball away. It perfectly encapsulates the emotional rollercoaster of having a young quarterback, but given that Jones was making huge third down conversions, looked sharp on the deep ball and made some plays with his legs while protecting the ball, it is definitely a sign to be encouraged.
We cannot mention the sizable improvement in the pass protection without talking about the bright spot: rookie left tackle Andrew Thomas. Thomas was the fourth pick taken in the 2020 NFL draft by the New York Giants. Left tackle is arguably the hardest position to transition from college to the pros. Considering how difficult it is to adjust to the NFL, it was not easy for Thomas as he was going up against Bud Dupree and the Steelers’ vicious front seven.
All things considered, Thomas only gave up four pressures and no sacks. Dupree was making plays in the backfield, but this was due to the Steelers’ highly effective blitz packages. The line was far from perfect, but incremental improvements began to take place. Thomas passed the first test of his rookie campaign, and it was a big one.
On Monday night, Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams were able to get in the backfield to sack Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlessberger for a pair of sacks. With that was a consistent pass rush for most of the night. Given the Giants’ deficiencies on the defensive side of the ball, this was a sign of encouragement moving forward. This is especially with the addition of some new blitz packages from Joe Judge that appeared to be getting through.
With the addition of some pressure from the defense, the new additions of linebackers Blake Martinez and Kyle Fackrell appeared to have paid off hugely. Martinez was all over the field shutting down the run, and any short passes over the middle as he finished with 12 total tackles. The middle of the field now has some resistance with the addition of these two new linebackers, which is an upgrade from the debacle that was the Alec Ogletree experiment.
The Giants made splashes in the off-season to rebut the secondary by drafting Alabama safety Xavier McKinney in the second round and signing Carolina Panthers cornerback James Bradberry to a lucrative contract. McKinney is on the IR following a fractured right foot injury during training camp.
Along with McKinney being hurt, the Giants lost former first round pick Deandre Baker after he was released from the team following allegations of his involvement in an armed robbery. Piled on with those two blows, the Giants lost corner Sam Beal who opted out of the 2020 season due to coronavirus concerns. They were brutally depleted at corner, and the Steelers picked on Corey Ballantine numerous times throughout the game.
Eventually, McKinney will be back midway through the season, but the question remains: can the Giants stay afloat with the glaring loss of McKinney?
All in all, this was a game the Giants could have won if they cleaned up the turnovers and played a little better on defense. After years of getting blown out, and not even contending in the games, this is a start in the right direction against one of the better franchises in the league. The Giants face a Chicago Bears team coming off an exhilarating win against the Detroit Lions. We will see if the Giants continue to show trends of improvement as they look to bounce back and stay afloat in the division race.