The New York Football Giants played football for the first time in 2020 last night and the results weren’t all that surprising give the opponent. The Pittsburgh Steelers are expected to do big things this season with future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returning from elbow surgery to lead a team that was carried by its defense last season and nearly made the playoffs with Duck Hodges at quarterback.
I wrote yesterday that I was worried about the Giants’ defense, but for much of the game it handled what Pittsburgh threw at it. A notable exception was at the end of the first half when the Steelers drove for a touchdown that made the score 16-10. Big Blue was able to generate pressure for much of the game with Lorenzo Carter leading the charge from outside linebacker while Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams picked up sacks. However, when Pittsburgh got into the rhythm its two-minute offense provided, the Giants couldn’t even get to third down.
New York got a stop to start the third quarter, though. When the offense took over, Daniel Jones led the team on what will probably hold up as the longest drive of the season. For 18 plays and 87 yards, Jones made all the right moves. He hit Darius Slayton to overcome a 3rd-and-14 and then found Levine Toilolo on a play-action pass to move the chains on 3rd-and-1. Slowly and methodically with no running game to speak of, Jones led the Giants down the field and they appeared destined for the end zone until Jones rolled left on the 19th play of the possession from the Pittsburgh four-yard line.
We could be talking about a much more exciting football game if Jones had just thrown the ball out of the end zone, but he made that decision a little too late, allowing Bud Dupree to hit his arm and the ball to fall into Cam Heyward’s lap. That was pretty much it for the Giants. Pittsburgh kicked a field goal on the ensuing possession and the Giants followed with a three-and-out. Benny Snell wore down the New York run defense on the next Steelers drive, and Roethlisberger found Diontae Johnson to complete two straight third downs when the Giants desperately needed the ball back. To cap the 75-yard drive, Roethlisberger found JuJu Smith-Schuster for their second touchdown connection of the game. The Giants scored in garbage time to make the final score 26-16.
This game certainly looks different if the Giants were able to complete their epic third quarter drive, but instead we got more growing pains from Jones. Good news, though: He didn’t fumble in this game and led New York to eight third-down conversions on 15 tries on a night when they couldn’t run the ball. And when I say they couldn’t run the ball, I mean there were multiple Steelers ready for Saquon Barkley in the backfield on almost every hand-off. The star tailback finished with six yards on 15 carries, but made some noise in the passing game by catching six of nine targets for 60 yards.
Pittsburgh was a tough draw for Week 1, but you’d like to see the Giants run block a little bit. Andrew Thomas will hopefully develop into a franchise tackle, but on the other side Nate Solder opted out and Cameron Fleming is not a long-term solution. The interior of the line has to be better with Will Hernandez in his third season and Kevin Zeitler continuing to be a consistent veteran. Nick Gates not playing much center before this year might be the biggest concern in the near future.
The schedule doesn’t get much easier over the next month, so the Giants have to step their game up. A visit to the Bears on Sunday might be their best chance in the season’s first quarter to get a win on the board. If that doesn’t go well, we could be in for another long season.