For the first time since 2004, Eli Manning didn’t start the season as the New York Giants starting quarterback. 23-year-old quarterback Daniel Jones, selected sixth overall out of Duke in […]
For the first time since 2004, Eli Manning didn’t start the season as the New York Giants starting quarterback. 23-year-old quarterback Daniel Jones, selected sixth overall out of Duke in the 2019 NFL Draft, will begin his sophomore season as the Giants Week 1 starter. In 12 starts last season, Jones finished with a 3-9 record, 3,027 passing yards, 24 passing touchdowns, 12 interceptions, and 11 fumbles lost.
New York also employs a new head coach for the third time in six seasons after failed tenures by Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur. Former New England Patriots special teams coach Joe Judge takes over, looking to improve on the Giants 4-12 record from 2019.
The Giants opened their 2020 NFL season against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football, inside of an empty MetLife Stadium. The Steelers return Ben Roethlisberger, one of Manning’s 2003 QB Draft Class contemporaries, from injury after a carousel season at the quarterback position for Pittsburgh in 2019.
The Steelers came into the game as 5.5-point road favorites over Jones and the Giants. In my Week 1 NFL Picks, I chose the Giants to upset Pittburgh 20-16.
Jones was accurate to start the game, hitting three of his first four passes, the lone incompletion on an Evan Engram drop. Saquon Barkley had a nice seven yard run, but also suffered losses of one and five yards on the Giants opening drive. The drive would appear to be cut short after a seven-yard gain on 3rd-and-8.
But on punter Ryan Dixon’s first career punt in New York, Steelers punt returner Diontae Johnson muffed the catch, allowing Giants linebacker Devante Downs to recover the ball at the three-yard line.
Jones and Barkley couldn’t advance the ball on three attempts to gain three yards, however. Barkley was stuffed with a one-yard gain on first down, and Jones missed on two pass attempts, including an inaccurate throw to an open Engram in the endzone. Graham Gano, also new to New York’s kicking unit, drilled a 21-yard field goal to open the scoring in MetLife Stadium.
New York’s defense had a strong opening series, forcing Roethlisberger to pitch an errant backwards pass to running back James Conner, a gaffe that would cost the Steelers all five yards Conner had previously gained.
The Giants next series was just as short lived, however, after a four-yard loss by Barkley, incomplete pass to Barkley, and one-yard pass to Barkley. Judge and offensive coordinator kept the tempo up early, opting for shotgun snaps and no huddle offense in each of the Giants first two drives, but found little success feeding the ball to Barkley.
JuJu Smith-Schuster hauled in an 11-yard pass from a heavily pressured Roethlisberger to avoid a second straight three-and-out. Two plays later, rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool made an amazing toe-tapping 28-yard catch to extend the drive again.
Pittsburgh’s 13-play, 59-yard drive would end in a made 41-yard field goal from kicker Chris Boswell to tie the game 3-3.
The Giants nearly went three-and-out again, but a Joe Haden defensive pass interference on Engram extended the drive. On the very next play, Jones delivered a 41-yard strike to Darius Slayton in the endzone to put the Giants up 10-3 in the second quarter.
The Giants defense held strong on the Steelers next offensive possession, allowing Conner just a one-yard gain on the ground while forcing two Roethlisberger incompletions to get the ball back quickly.
But New York’s fortunes quickly changed as defensive end T.J. Watt leaped up from the trenches for a clean interception of a Jones pass intended for Engram. Jones had 23 turnovers over 13 starts in 2019, and threw his first interception of the season early in the second quarter of this Monday night meeting.
Roethlisberger and the Steelers took advantage of the short field, picking up an 18-yard Ebron catch on third down and a ten-yard touchdown caught by Smith-Schuster with 9:01 left in the first half. Boswell botched the extra point attempt, leaving the Giants up 10-9.
Barkley, who at this point had seven rushes for negative-six yards, made his first big play of the night with a 38-yard catch and run screen pass.
That Giants drive, however, would be stalled after offensive pass interference was called on Engram and Jones was sacked for a seven-yard loss, setting up a nearly impossible 3rd-and-27 play.
New York’s defense stifled Pittsburgh’s offense, deep in their own territory after a seven-yard sack on Roethlisberger by defensive end Dexter Lawrence, and forcing another three-and-out.
The Giants would do the same after another short offensive possession, giving the Steelers the ball with 1:32 left in the half.
Roethlisberger kickstarted the drive with a 21-yard pass to wide receiver James Wahington, before feeding the ball to Smith-Schuster for two first dwon catches. Big Ben picked up a first down of his own on an 11-yard scramble. Roethlisberger would then find Wahington once again, and the receiver drove his legs and fought for a hard-earned touchdown.
The Steelers took a 16-10 lead into the halftime break of a tightly contested Monday Night Football matchup. Pittsburgh gained 179 yards and ten first downs in the first half, compared to 140 yards and seven first downs for New York.
Barkley finished the first half with nine carries and negative-three yards, finding absolutely no success on the ground. He did have two catches for 39 yards, though 38 yards came on one screen play.
In light of a James Conner ankle injury, Pittsburgh pounded the ball with running back Benny Snell Jr. to begin he second half, gaining one first down. The Steelers would punt following a third down incompletion, with Roethlisberger targeting Wahington.
Jones and the Giants finally got churning on offense in their first possession of the second half. Jones was seven-of-eight passing on the drive, with five first down pickups including a fourth-and-one conversion to Barkley. Barkley later finally broke through for a seven-yard rush in the redzone, setting the Giants up with a second down on Pittsburgh’s four-yard line.
Jones, pressured and hit by Bud Dupree, lofted an errant pass into a sea of Steelers defenders in the endzone. Bigman defensive end Cameron Hayward came away with an interception to end the Giants 19-play, 8:50 drive where everything seemed to be going right for New York until the final play.
Diontae Johnson was Roethlisberger’s most productive receiver on Pittsburgh’s nine-play scoring drive, hauling in two passes for 28 yards. Claypool, Smith-Schuster, and Jaylen Samuels also made catches on the drive, resulting in a 36-yard Boswell field goal and 19-10 Steelers lead with 14:24 left to play.
Desperate for their first score of the second half, the Giants couldn’t deliver on their next drive. After yet another negative Barkley run, Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton sacked Jones for a nine-yard loss on third down. The Giants punted away the ball with 12:39 left to play, hanging in a two-score game by a thread.
Three plays later, Smith-Schuster made his sixth catch of the night, and second touchdown reception, to put the Steelers up 16 points (technically still two scores) with 5:23 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Giants showed more life on their last ditch drive. Jones picked up six first downs, hitting different receivers and scrambling for a first down himself. On third-and-goal, Jones found Slayton for a seven-yard score on a slant route for the receiver’s second touchdown of the night.
On the oh-so-crucial two-point conversion attempt to make it a one-score game, Jones couldn’t connect with Sterling Shepard.
Graham Gano’s onside kick attempt was recovered by Smith-Schuster with 1:51 to play. The Steelers converted on fourth-and-one on an end around handoff to Claypool to effectively end the game.
While both quarterbacks enjoyed decent to good passing nights, two interceptions doomed Daniel Jones and the Giants on Monday night. It certainly didn’t help that the Giants gained just 29 yards on the ground, with star running back Saquon Barkley gaining a measly six yards on 15 carries.
New York Giants
- Quarterback Daniel Jones completed 26-of-41 passes for 279 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. His redzone pick thrown to Cameron Hayward especially swung the game’s outcome, denying the Giants at least three points.
- Running back Saquon Barkley was absolutely shut down on the ground by Pittsburgh’s defense. Despite a couple decent runs, Barkley finished with just six yards on 15 carries. He did make more of an impact in the passing game, however, catching six passes for 60 yards.
- Wide receiver Darius Slayton was the shining star of the Giants offense, catching six passes for 102 yards and both touchdownsthrown by Jones. Streling Shepard also caught six passes, for 47 yards.
- Playing for the first time in almost exactly a year, Ben Roethlisberger looked to be in mid-season form on opening day. The long-time Steelers quarterback completed 21-of-32 passes for 229 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
- James Conner, like Barkley, was struggling with just nine yards on six carres before exiting the game with an ankle injury. His replacement, Benny Snell Jr., ripped off 113 yards on 19 carries to help sustain Pittsburgh’s offense.
- JuJu Smith-Schuster lived up to his WR1 status, catching all six passes thrown his way for 69 yards and two scores. Diontae Johnson bounced back from an early muffed punt and and finished with 57 yards on six receptions.
The Steelers (1-0) host the Denver Broncos (0-1) for Pittsburgh’s home opener in Week 2. The Steelers and Ravens are tied for the AFC North lead at 1-0.
Daniel Jones and the Giants (0-1) will look to bounce back in Week 2 when they travel to Chicago to take on Mitch Trubisky and the Bears (1-0.) Chicago had an impressive fourth quarter comeback in Week 1, downing the Detroit Lions 27-23. Saquon Barkley will be up another tough run defense in Chicago, though Detroit was able to put up 138 rushing yards in Week 1 (including 93 yards on 14 carries from Adrian Peterson.)
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Header Photo: Charles Wenzelberg/NY Post