The good news for the New York Giants? The 40-0 demolition administered by the Dallas Cowboys in the season opener only counts as one loss in the standings. The Giants can get back on track Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, who remain the favorites to select first in the 2024 NFL draft.
Here are 10 thoughts on the Giants as they strive to avoid their sixth 0-2 start in the past seven seasons:
The Giants’ offensive line was a major concern before it became apparent that All-Pro left tackle Andrew Thomas could miss Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury. Thomas injured his left hamstring on the catastrophic blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown in the first quarter of the season opener.
Thomas labored through the rest of the game until he was removed after the third quarter. He didn’t practice Wednesday, then was a limited participant Thursday.
Thomas said an MRI revealed “nothing alarming” about his hamstring, so a long-term absence can be ruled out. But Thomas didn’t participate in team periods Thursday, so it seems like it would be pushing it for him to be ready to play on Sunday.
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It’s horrifying to imagine a Giants offensive line that allowed an absurd pressure rate of 67 percent in Week 1 trying to protect quarterback Daniel Jones without its best blocker. But that’s what’s facing the Giants, who also could have a change at right guard after veteran Mark Glowinski was abused in the opener.
Coach Brian Daboll didn’t hesitate to make lineup changes after a win in Week 1 last season. Wide receiver Kenny Golladay played two snaps in Week 2 after starting and playing 77 percent of the snaps in the opener last year.
Daboll sounded like he was ready to make a change this week.
“You kind of evaluate the whole body of work — preseason stuff, training camp and also obviously the first game,” Daboll said. “You don’t sit and just wait around. If you think you need to do something, that’s the job. You’ve got to do it.”
The question is how the offensive line will shake out with so many moving pieces. Even Matt Peart, who was the swing tackle throughout training camp and replaced Thomas in the opener, is dealing with an elbow injury.
If Thomas is out, Peart is the logical replacement. But his injury and shaky play could cause the Giants to pivot to Josh Ezeudu. A 2022 third-round pick, Ezeudu was primarily a guard at North Carolina, but he does have experience at both tackle spots.
Ezeudu split time at left tackle and left guard during camp last year, but he exclusively played guard this summer. Ezeudu disappointingly failed to win a starting guard job after rotating extensively with Glowinski and Ben Bredeson throughout camp.
Daboll said Ezeudu, who replaced the injured Peart for the final 14 snaps of the opener, started getting practice reps at left tackle after the preseason ended. It would be risky to have such an inexperienced player protecting Jones’ blind side.
Ezeudu could also replace Glowinski at right guard (or Ezeudu could step in at left guard and Bredeson could shift to right guard). The other options if Glowinski gets benched are Marcus McKethan and Shane Lemieux.
A 2022 fifth-round pick, McKethan’s game experience is limited to the 20 snaps he played in this year’s preseason finale. He missed exactly a year after tearing his ACL early in his rookie training camp.
Lemieux, who has made 11 career starts, represents a more experienced option. But Lemieux was a healthy scratch for the opener, signaling that he’s behind McKethan.
Whatever combination takes the field likely won’t relieve the agita caused by the disastrous showing in the opener.
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Coach in the crosshairs
Giants special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey is in the crosshairs after his units struggled last season. The death stare Daboll gave McGaughey after the Giants surrendered a 95-yard punt return touchdown in the preseason opener became a hot topic during camp.
So the disastrous blocked field goal Dallas returned for a touchdown on the Giants’ opening possession was the worst possible start to the season for McGaughey. When asked about the breakdown, McGaughey repeatedly said he had turned the page and moved on to Arizona.
Obviously, the miscue had been addressed internally, but McGaughey, who typically is one of the most candid assistants on staff, should have provided more accountability to a frustrated fan base. McGaughey only speaks to reporters once a week, so Thursday was his lone chance to address the blunder that started an avalanche.
Glowinski was asked if he felt he got enough work with Schmitz and Neal in the preseason. The ninth-year veteran’s response was interesting.
“I’m not going to say yes or no to it,” Glowinski said. “You always want to have more reps. I think you also have to be ready, if it’s even a walkthrough making sure they make the most of those reps.”
The Giants had a dizzying rotation at the two guard spots throughout training camp, with Glowinski, Bredeson and Ezeudu switching spots every snap in some practices. There’s a fine line in the preseason between letting position battles play out and landing on starters so continuity can be built. It’s clear Glowinski would have preferred less rotating and more time working with the starters leading into the season.
The numbers lie?
The box score from the Cardinals’ 20-16 loss to the Commanders in Week 1 shows that Arizona had six sacks. But don’t get tricked into believing the Giants are set to face another pass rush as formidable as Dallas’.
The Cardinals pressured Commanders quarterback Sam Howell on 33 percent of his dropbacks. Some of Arizona’s sacks were the result of Howell’s poor pocket presence.
That’s not to suggest the Cardinals defense will be a pushover. And the Giants’ offensive line certainly can’t take any opponent lightly. The Cardinals are led by first-year head coach Jonathan Gannon, who had plenty of success against the Giants as the Eagles defensive coordinator for the past two seasons.
The Giants know what to expect from a Gannon defense, which will feature a lot of zone coverage and not much blitzing. The big difference is Gannon doesn’t have nearly as much talent in Arizona as he had in Philadelphia, although All-Pro safety Budda Baker is a game-changer who will be the focus of the Giants’ game plan. Gannon also imported linebacker Kyzir White and safety K’Von Wallace from Philadelphia, and those players were flying around the field in the opener.
The Giants will likely want to establish their run game to protect their shaky offensive line. And their run-blocking was actually effective against the Cowboys, but they abandoned the run when the game got out of hand.
Arizona’s run defense was impressive in the opener, holding the Commanders to 3.3 yards per carry. However, the Cardinals could be without two starters, as defensive end LJ Collier (biceps) and inside linebacker Josh Woods (ankle) haven’t practiced this week.
Defense should dominate
The Giants’ offense should bounce back, but they’ll face some resistance from a chippy Cardinals defense. Meanwhile, the Giants’ defense should dominate an Arizona offense led by quarterback Josh Dobbs, who was acquired in a trade three weeks ago.
Adjusting on the fly would be a tall task for any quarterback, but especially for Dobbs, who had only made two starts in the first six seasons of his career. Dobbs completed 21-of-30 passes for 132 yards in the opener — a measly 4.4 yards per attempt — and fumbled three times (two lost).
The Cardinals run a gimmicky offense, with funky personnel groupings in the backfield. They lean heavily on RPOs and bootlegs, which help a weak offensive line. Former Giant Will Hernandez has been solid at right guard for the Cardinals.
The Giants’ upgraded run defense should be tested by Arizona running back James Conner, who had 14 carries for 62 yards in the opener.
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When the Giants were in their base 3-4 defense against the Cowboys, Adoree’ Jackson was in his customary spot as an outside cornerback. But when the Giants shifted to their nickel package, Jackson moved into the slot and Tre Hawkins came in as a perimeter corner.
Jackson didn’t shadow Cowboys No. 1 wide receiver CeeDee Lamb all over the field, although they did match up frequently in the slot. When Lamb aligned wide against the Giants’ nickel package, Jackson remained in the slot.
It will be interesting to see how the Giants deploy Jackson on Sunday since Arizona’s top receiver, Marquise Brown, primarily aligns on the outside.
More injury concerns
The Giants have a lengthy injury list aside from Thomas. Most notably, outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari has been a limited participant since injuring his hamstring during individual drills at the start of Wednesday’s practice.
Ojulari, who missed 10 games last season with a variety of maladies, was sidelined for the first three weeks of camp last year due to a hamstring injury. Ojulari didn’t do much during the open portion of Thursday’s practice, which isn’t an encouraging sign for his Sunday availability.
The Giants only have three other outside linebackers on the active roster, so Oshane Ximines would likely be elevated from the practice squad if Ojulari can’t play. Special teamer Taiwan Jones is also expected to be elevated.
Tight end Darren Waller was held out of Wednesday’s practice, which Daboll said was planned before the 31-year-old injured his hamstring last week. The plan is to give Waller a “vet day” every Wednesday.
As for the hamstring, Waller explained that the nerve in his hamstring is compressed, so this is different from the type of strain that caused him to miss eight games last season in Las Vegas. Waller said after Thursday’s practice that he felt “great” and doesn’t have any long-term concerns about his hamstring.
Wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson is close to being ready to make his return from the torn ACL he suffered last November. But complicating the process is that the Giants have a short turnaround before their Week 3 game against the 49ers.
The Giants could hold Robinson out on Sunday rather than having him make his debut, and then turn around on a short week. Whenever Robinson makes his debut, he’ll likely start on a pitch count to limit his workload.
No hard feelings
Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka was a finalist for the Cardinals’ head-coaching vacancy in the offseason. Kafka and Bengals defensive coordinator (and former Giants defensive backs coach) Lou Anarumo were viewed as the finalists for the position during Super Bowl week. But the Cardinals pivoted to hire Gannon two days after the Super Bowl.
Gannon hadn’t been part of the first round of interviews, which led to questions about how he surpassed the two known finalists. The answer came on draft day when it was announced that Cardinals general manager Monti Ossenfort tampered by having an impermissible phone conversation with Gannon during the Eagles’ playoff run.
Kafka, who interviewed for four of the five NFL head-coaching vacancies during the offseason, said the experience with Arizona didn’t leave a bad taste in his mouth.
“I learned a lot about myself, I learned a lot about the NFL and how those things work,” Kafka said. “Nothing but a great experience there.”
Daboll has repeatedly said he won’t learn about his team until it’s faced with adversity. He was served more of it earlier than he ever could have expected, so it’ll be interesting to see how the team responds. Daboll has preached consistency and not overreacting to the Cowboys loss all week.
“You’re not going to ride a roller coaster,” Daboll said. “Results? Terrible. But you’re not going to ride a roller coaster. Not how we do things. We’re going to be consistent with how we teach, how we practice, how we prepare and try to do a better job.”
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Giants 27, Cardinals 16. This is the ultimate get-right game for the Giants. They should look much better against arguably the least talented roster in the NFL. If the Giants lose this game, sound the alarms.
(Photo: Mitchell Leff / Getty Images)
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