Here are our picks for the Game Balls and Gassers from the Giants' 35-17 loss to the Cowboys in Week 1.
RB Saquon Barkley: It’s not Barkley’s faulty that his head coach decided to limit his touches this week, even when the game was still in reach.
We’re not quite sure what else he has to do to get more of his share of the touches in games, but when he does, Barkley delivers. Barkley is just too good of a player to be used as a decoy, and the sooner the coaches get that through their heads, the better.
Evan Engram: Engram quietly had a 100-yard receiving day, catching 11 out of 14 pass targets for 116 yards and a touchdown. It might be a matter of time before opposing defenses start doubling up against Engram, but if that does happen, that means more plays for others on the offense.
Cody Latimer: Forget about Latimer’s modest receiving numbers (three out of eight pass targets for 74 yards). The veteran really showed his worth on a couple of nice downfield blocks, including Saquon Barkley’s huge 59-yard run from scrimmage.
Receiving is only one part of the job, and yes, it’s a big one, but when a receiver can also block well as Latimer did this week, that’s an underrated yet important contribution to the offense.
Head coach Pat Shurmur: For the life of me, I cannot understand why Shurmur continues to abandon the run as quickly as he does. Here you have a generational talent on your team in Barkley and you’re not using him as much as you should be, you’re also not using him on short yardage?
When asked about it, Shurmur said, “Games play out differently. I think he had really good production when he touched the ball. We threw him the ball as well.” Okay, so again, if he had really good production, why not let him pick up that short-yardage you need for a first down?
And what was with the decision to throw a challenge play on a potential pass interference inside of the two-minute mark at the half knowing darn well that any reviews come from the booth?
“I know the rule, but I was just making a point to the official that they should take a good look and see if that was PI or not,” Shurmur said.
He’s lucky that the official didn’t make a point to him by throwing a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct, as was suggested as an option on the televised broadcast.
Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher: It’s too easy to give the gassers to cornerbacks Antonio Hamilton and DeAndre Baker, both of whom struggled this week. I’m giving it instead to Bettcher.
Right from the get-go when he said that both of these young corners—who missed preseason practice and playing reps due to injuries, including the preseason finale against the Patriots—were going to alternate series, the idea didn't feel right.
Sure enough, the Cowboys went right after whoever was at that spot and did so successfully. What’s more, why Bettcher didn’t play Corey Ballentine, who at least made it through the preseason healthy, ahead of Hamilton and Baker until those players fully nocked off their rust is an even bigger mystery.
The Defense: From front to back, this unit wasn’t sharp. Zero sacks, two quarterback hits, and only one tackle for a loss just isn’t going to get it done, folks.
That the unit also continues to struggle with covering the middle of the field (and tight ends in general) is also a huge concern.
“We’re going to keep looking at it and we just keep working on, really, all the fundamental parts of the game, which includes getting pressure,” Shurmur said.
While it’s just one game this year, that the lack of a pass rush continues to be an issue despite having made over the personnel could be pointing to a bigger issue beyond the fundamentals.