go-deeper

Giants can be proud of turnaround season, but Eagles drubbing proves there’s still long way to go


PHILADELPHIA — A year ago, the Giants were directionless.

General manager Dave Gettleman had “retired” after presiding over one of the worst four-year stretches in franchise history. Coach Joe Judge was fired after flaming out spectacularly during his second season.

The Giants hit the reset button, bringing in outsiders at general manager (Joe Schoen) and head coach (Brian Daboll). It may be tough to see it from the smoldering remains of a season that ended with what Daboll called a “crash landing” in a 38-7 drubbing by the Eagles in the NFC divisional round, but the Giants are finally headed in the right direction.

“I’m proud of where we came from the last two years,” safety Xavier McKinney said. “Just to see the growth that we’ve made as a team, it’s been great to see. It’s been great to be a part of. But we’re just looking to build more. We’re not there yet, and we know that, so we’re just looking keep building. I know we’ll be able to do that.”

There’s plenty of reason for optimism after a 9-7-1 regular season that produced the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2016. Dreams of another magical Super Bowl run started to percolate after the Giants traveled to Minnesota in the wild-card round and won their first playoff game in 11 years.

But Saturday provided a reality check. The Giants have made great strides in the first year of this new regime, but there is still a long way to go to compete with league’s upper echelon.

The Eagles were the best team in the NFC all season and emphatically proved that Saturday night, just as they did during a 48-22 beating at MetLife Stadium in Week 14. Schoen now heads into an offseason full of big decisions with a clear target for the type of roster he needs to build.

“We got beat soundly,” Daboll said. “We got out-coached, we got out-played.”

The Giants have some building blocks in place. Left tackle Andrew Thomas and nose tackle Dexter Lawrence blossomed into second-team All-Pros in their third and fourth seasons, respectively. Both of those players are eligible for extensions this offseason, and Schoen would be wise to lock down those cornerstones in the trenches, especially after witnessing how dominant the Eagles are on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

There’s also McKinney, another third-year player who can be extended this offseason, and outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux, who showed flashes of becoming a formidable pass rusher during his rookie season.

“I think we have some young talented players, good leaders on our team,” Thomas said. “But I don’t control what happens upstairs (in the front office). So we’ll see how that goes, but I’m proud of these guys.”

Of course, two of the biggest pieces of the core aren’t guaranteed to return. Quarterback Daniel Jones, who eliminated most doubters by taking a significant leap in his fourth season, and running back Saquon Barkley, who stayed healthy and rediscovered his explosive rookie form, are set to become free agents.

The Giants want to keep both players. Barkley has made no secret of his desire to spend his entire career with the Giants. Jones has never made such proclamations, but he never makes proclamations of any sort. Still, it was at least interesting to hear how he answered when asked how much he wants to remain a Giant.

“I think we will get into that down the road,” Jones said. “At this point, this is still very fresh. This season. This loss. It will take some time to regroup and think through that going forward.”

Schoen will need to get to work on hammering out a long-term deal with Jones or Barkley before the start of free agency, which would allow him to retain the other with the franchise tag. But even if Jones and Barkley are back, it’s inevitable this roster will experience a makeover.

Twelve of the 22 starters in Saturday’s game are set to hit free agency. Some may find greener pastures elsewhere, while the Giants surely will pursue upgrades at some positions.

There’s also the possibility of attrition with the all-star coaching staff Daboll built. Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka reportedly will interview for three head coaching jobs on Sunday, while defensive coordinator Wink Martindale reportedly has an interview for the Colts’ vacancy.

More change is coming. But there are enough pieces of the foundation in place to believe the arrow is finally pointing up for the Giants.

There will be plenty of time in the coming months to assess the personnel decisions. For now, here’s a review of what went so wrong on Saturday night:

Overmatched

The Giants’ defense was at full strength against the Eagles for the first time this season, but it didn’t make a difference. Any questions about Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts’ injured right shoulder were answered as he shredded the Giants’ defense. Hurts started 7-for-7 for 89 yards and two touchdowns to spring Philadelphia to a 14-0 lead after two possessions.

go-deeper

Hurts finished with modest passing numbers — 16-for-24, 154 yards, two touchdowns — because the Eagles pounded the Giants into submission on the ground. The Giants surrendered a season-high 268 yards rushing (besting the 253 yards the Eagles had in Week 14).

Lawrence and fellow defensive tackle Leonard Williams are great players, but the Eagles proved that’s not enough to combat a dominant offensive line and a stable of dynamic ball carriers. The Giants desperately need to upgrade their linebacking corps after patching the position together with veteran castoffs this season.

The Giants actually did a solid job containing the Eagles’ dangerous receiving duo of A.J. Brown (three catches, 22 yards) and Devonta Smith (six catches, 61 yards, one touchdown). But it didn’t matter because the Eagles were content to run the ball down the Giants’ throats all game.

The Eagles pushed the Giants around — literally. Tight end Dallas Goedert set the tone with a vicious stiff-arm to cornerback Adoree’ Jackson on the opening drive. Later, center Jason Kelce used one hand to send 334-pound defensive tackle Justin Ellis sprawling to the turf.

The Eagles went 10-for-14 on third down and 4-for-5 in the red zone. Both had been strengths for the Giants defense all season, but they had no answers Saturday.

Running for his life

Every fear about the Eagles pass rush wrecking the game was realized. Jones was running for his life all night, and he was clearly rattled by the incessant pressure.

Jones completed 15-of-27 passes for 135 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. The interception was just his second in his past eight games. Jones was sacked five times and sent fleeing from pass rushers on countless dropbacks, with rookie right tackle Evan Neal frequently overwhelmed by outside linebacker Haason Reddick.

Jones’ legs had been a potent counter to opposing pass rushes all season, but he had nowhere to run against the relentless Eagles. He finished with 24 yards on six carries.

Even when Jones had time, he didn’t look comfortable. He had an opportunity to hit wide receiver Darius Slayton deep early in the third quarter, but a badly under-thrown pass was broken up by cornerback James Bradberry.

Gettleman’s ‘victory lap’

Saturday’s result had to be particularly satisfying for Bradberry, who signed with the Eagles after the Giants cut him in May for salary cap purposes. Watching Bradberry, who earned a second-team All-Pro selection this season, expertly bait Jones into a first quarter interception reinforced the ridiculousness of Gettleman’s recent victory lap.

Yes, Gettleman selected a few quality players while drafting in the top 10 annually. But he also mismanaged the roster and salary cap so profoundly that Schoen was forced to cut a premier player at a premium position.

The Giants hodgepodge group of wide receivers had been an uplifting story, but they were no match for Bradberry and counterpart Darius Slay. Slayton and Isaiah Hodgins combined for 7 yards on two catches.

Meanwhile, wide receiver Kenny Golladay, another Gettleman mistake, was reduced to playing a few garbage-time snaps. One of the Schoen’s easiest calls this offseason will be cutting Golladay to create $6.7 million in cap savings.

Out of magic

Daboll pushed the right buttons most of the season, but he didn’t have his magic touch on Saturday. The Giants were in no man’s land when faced with a fourth-and-8 from Philadelphia’s 40-yard line after Neal surrendered a sack to Reddick on the opening drive.

The Giants were outside of kicker Graham Gano’s range and Daboll wanted to be aggressive, so he eschewed a punt. But Reddick got to Jones on a stunt up the middle for a sack to produce a turnover on downs.

Considering that aggressive mindset, it was baffling that Daboll elected to punt on fourth-and-6 from the Giants’ 42-yard line while trailing 28-7 early in the fourth quarter. The Giants needed a touchdown on the drive to have any chance at a comeback, but Daboll waved the white flag by punting. The Eagles then drained nearly eight minutes with a 15-play drive that resulted in a field goal.

Notes

• Giants outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari played a limited role due to a painful quad contusion.

“It’s so tough,” Ojulari said. “This whole season has been tough going through all this adversity.”

Ojulari, who didn’t miss a game during his rookie year, missed 10 games this season with a variety of injuries. He said he plans to make changes to his offseason training, such as incorporating yoga, in an effort to prevent injuries next season.

• McKinney returned late in the season from the hand injury he suffered in an ATV accident during the bye week, but he wasn’t close to full health. McKinney estimated that he was operating at 70 percent capacity due to the weakness in his fingers, hand and wrist caused by the three fingers he shattered in early November.

McKinney said his hand will return to being fully functional with continued rehab. There are no concerns about long-term effects.

• The Giants have now lost 10 straight games at Philadelphia and 17 of the past 20 games in the series. The Eagles are built to contend for a while, so the Giants are going to need to figure out a way to conquer their rival.

• Martindale tugged on Superman’s cape during the week when he dismissed Eagles running back Boston Scott’s “Giants killer” reputation. Sure enough, Scott scored yet another touchdown against the Giants. Scott now has 11 touchdowns in nine career games against the Giants compared to seven touchdowns in 56 career games against all other opponents.

(Rich Graessle / Icon Sportswire via AP Images)





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