I would have never admitted it beforehand, but the writing was on the wall with this one.
Lots of people were writing the Giants off because of the extensive list of injuries sustained during the preseason. I scoffed at those people, holding steadfast to my belief that you can absorb a lot of setbacks as long as you can get to the quarterback on defense and control the line of scrimmage on offense.
However, even I began to worry when the news hit that Justin Tuck might not suit up for yesterday's opener.
For all the hype surrounding Osi Umenyiora (much of it well deserved), it is Tuck who is the most indispensable player on this defense. He is, by many people's measure, the best defensive end in this league. His presence was a big reason why I was so optimistic that this group could live up to their reputation until Osi's return.
The numbers say that the Giants did get to the quarterback yesterday. Jason Pierre-Paul (2 sacks, 1 forced fumble) and Dave Tollefson (1 sack) filled in admirably for Umenyiora and Tuck. But, don't be fooled. This was not the consistent heavy pressure we've come to expect from these Giants. It showed up at times, particularly early in the game, and was totally absent at other times. That type of pass-rushing performance might satisfy many fans out there, but for this team it's simply not up to par. Frankly, Rex Grossman looked far too comfortable for long stretches of that game. In terms of opposing quarterbacks, it will only get more difficult. Much, much more difficult.
Don't get me wrong. There were major issues all over the defense. The secondary was especially pitiful, as it was picked apart by Grossman to the tune of 305 yards and 2 touchdowns. In his post-game press conference, Tom Coughlin bemoaned the massive cushions that the Redskins receivers were being given. However, with all the injuries in the secondary (particularly Terrell Thomas) and with rookie Greg Jones starting at middle linebacker, it's not surprising that this group wasn't on the same page. I expect that they will remedy a lot of what ailed them yesterday very quickly.
After digging into this film and fixing their coverage miscues, the next best thing that can happen for the secondary is to get Justin Tuck back in the defensive front. With he and Pierre-Paul pressuring opposing quarterbacks, I don't think we'll see another quarterback sitting as comfortably in the pocket as Grossman was for stretches on Sunday.
Once Osi's added back into that mix, I expect this defense to be a top tier unit in the NFL, as it always is. To be sure, Grossman's numbers were worrisome, but I don't have long-term concerns on this side of the ball.
I wish I could say the same about the offense.
This offensive line is going to need time. Everyone had been saying it throughout the preseason, but I didn't believe it. Because David Baas is the only member who is actually new to the Giants, I expected they'd be able to gel quickly. What we saw from them yesterday was, for lack of a better word, unacceptable.
Forget that Eli Manning was sacked 4 times. What was equally frustrating was the fact that he was scrambling for his life and rushing his throws throughout the entire second half. He hasn't looked good since day 1 of the preseason, and a lot of people have attributed that to the lack of a dependable third receiver and tight end. The clear issue yesterday was that he never felt comfortable in the pocket and he was never able to establish a rhythm. He's never going to be successful against pressure like he saw yesterday.
It's almost too difficult for me to write about the failed short yardage attempts, because I still get so upset when I think about them. This team is built on controlling the line of scrimmage. We've got a lot of money tied up in two running backs who I believe make up the best rushing tandem in football. For this group to only convert one third down and to be stuffed on short yardage on multiple occasions is very worrisome.
Because I'm a loyal Eli defender, I'll take this chance to note that his interception was the result of a blocking assignment that was not executed.
Finally, I have to question the coaching staff. 32 - 20. That was the pass to run ratio for the offense yesterday. 12 of those 20 runs came in the first half - for an average of over 5 yards per carry. In the second half, the Giants seemed to go away from the run. I can only assume their hope was to exploit the much maligned Washington secondary (against which they were able to hit 3 pass plays of over 20 yards). It led to zero second half points, and a complete loss of rhythm when they did need to return to the ground game in short yardage downs. Ahmad Bradshaw rushed for 44 yards yesterday. Brandon Jacobs had 29 on 6 carries. 6 carries for a guy who was just a hair under 5 yards per carry. I don't understand it.
The Giants are not built to throw the ball as often as they did. They've got two receivers in whom I have a great deal of confidence (Nicks and Manningham might have been the only real bright spots yesterday). Everything after that, at this point, is shaky at best. Their ONLY recipe for success right now is to run the ball to set up the pass. Hakeem Nicks can perform like he did yesterday every week if they do that. Run to set up the pass. They shouldn't have gone away from it yesterday. The game wasn't out of reach until the very end.
Here's my positive spin, if you're interested:
This group of Giants has tended to come out of the gate strong. We all get our hopes up, and then we're bitterly disappointed during the second half of the season. It happened the year before they won the Super Bowl, and it feels like it has happened every year since. The one year when I really felt worried - when I wished I could hit the reset button on the whole season - when they started off 0-2 and looked good for 0-3 for most of their game against Washington - was the year that they won the Super Bowl.
Maybe that helps you. It doesn't really help me. At least St. Louis will be banged up too when we face them next week. Babcock and I will be breaking down the week 2 lines on the Chat New England Podcast Wednesday night.