There isn’t much more you could have asked for from the Giants defense on Sunday. They lost a game where they allowed 13 offensive points. Granted, the Jaguars are not exactly an offensive juggernaut, and they lost Leonard Fournette early in the game. However, the Giants were missing a key piece of their defense in Olivier Vernon, and they still turned in a winnable performance.
Let’s start with the passing game. Sure, the Jaguars don’t exactly challenge you through the air, but the Giants did not allow much against Jacksonville’s “aerial assault.” Janoris Jenkins got beat in man coverage a couple of times but was pretty solid overall. On his first quarter interception, he did a great job of forcing his receiver to the sideline and then getting his head around to play the ball.
Eli Apple has been a confounding player since he arrived in New York. However, he got his 2018 season off to a nice start with a solid performance as well. Apple is at his best when he can get up in a receiver’s face in man-to-man coverage. He has been quite good at tracking receivers’ routes and staying with them in these situations. His issues arise from not getting his head around to locate the ball in those man-press situations (like Jack Rabbit did on his interception), and from being too slow to read and react to route combinations in zone. He will certainly be challenged more as the season moves on, but on Sunday he did just about everything the Giants asked him to.
One of the big concerns about the G-Men is their ability to get to the quarterback without blitzing. Vernon’s absence was definitely felt on Sunday, as he is their most disruptive player. But when he returns to the lineup, you’re not suddenly going to see the Giants morph into the ‘85 Bears. New York will need to blitz to get to the quarterback this season.
From his history, new defensive coordinator James Bettcher likes to attack the quarterback with speed via the blitz. We saw this on display a few times against Jacksonville, as he dialed up blitzes using his safeties and corners to rush the passer. Still, Blake Bortles had way too much time to throw, and that gave his receivers time to win against the secondary on a few occasions. Just look at this play below on Jacksonville’s only touchdown drive of the day:
Look at all that space Bortles has to calmly deliver an accurate throw. That type of time also allowed his receiver, Dede Westbrook, the opportunity to break free against his defender. Notice that the Giants brought 5 pass rushers here. Even when blitzing, they couldn’t get home against Jacksonville’s stout offensive line. 5 pass rushers leaves one less defender in coverage. The Giants won’t be able to get away with this against better passing teams.
Against the run, New York allowed 137 yards on 28 carries, good for 4.9 yards per carry. Those numbers are skewed a bit by Bortles’ 41-yard RPO keeper in the 3rd quarter. Still, we saw a few too many chunk plays in the running game to be satisfied with the Giants’ performance. Below you can see rookie defensive end B.J. Hill get absolutely blown off the line of scrimmage by a double team vs. a right tackle and tight end. Watch #78 and #88 on the right side of the screen.
That’s not what you want. This run set up Jacksonville’s only touchdown of the game. To Hill’s credit, he did come back and make a few nice plays against the run in the second half, including one that saved a sure first down. We look forward to seeing how the rookie 3rd rounder grows throughout the season. Still, we saw Giants D-linemen get blown off the ball a few too many times vs double teams on Sunday.
All in all, the Giants defense turned in a strong performance against the AFC’s runner-up from 2017. The G-Men will face a similar challenge next week against a Cowboys team that is run first and doesn’t do a lot to challenge you in the passing game. With an 0-2 start staring the Giants in the face, they are already at must-win status in what figures to be a very competitive division this season.