EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - SEPTEMBER 14: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers talks with Daniel Jones #8 of the New York Giants after the game at MetLife Stadium on September 14, 2020 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Steelers won 26-16.
(Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Joe Judge’s New York Giants have much to work on moving forward, but several positive takeaways can be noted.

This past Monday night, for the first time since 2003, Eli Manning wasn’t suiting up for the New York Giants. It was a bittersweet moment marking the dawning of a new age.

The Giants had themselves an impressive offseason but they’re still a rebuilding team. Both of these facts were evident in their season-opening loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Daniel Jones, Manning’s successor, had an excellent and promising rookie campaign. All eyes were on him to see what he’d do in the first matchup of his sophomore season.

Jones wasn’t perfect and his second interception of the night, a throw he shouldn’t have made in the red zone while under pressure from Bud Dupree — who was a thorn in New York’s side all night — was ugly.

The interception seemed to shift the momentum entirely to Pittsburgh and the Giants couldn’t recover. However, overall, Jones wasn’t bad. He threw for 279 yards, completed 26 passes on 41 attempts, and registered two touchdowns and two interceptions.

At 82.1, Jones earned the highest PFF grade of any offensive players and the second-highest on the team. It was also the highest grade of his career.

What makes all this even more impressive is that Jones was under pressure on 26 drop-backs, six more than any other quarterback this week.

Saquon Barkley, who’s been expected to have a monster year after an injury-shortened 2019, was very lackluster.

He rushed for six yards on 15 attempts, which is actually the worst rushing performance by a running back this century, according to Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post.

He did have six catches for 60 yards, but he couldn’t get it going on the ground and continued to exhibit blocking issues. The main reason why Barkley struggled in the running game was, surprise surprise, the offensive line.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at that.

Kevin Zeitler, who’s supposed to be one of the better members of that line, was bad, and Nick Gates could’ve been better.

Will Hernandez, who’s shown flashes of potential, earned the lowest PFF grade of all the team’s offensive linemen with an abysmal 46.3. Cameron Fleming, signed as a free agent, was also unimpressive.

The good news? Andrew Thomas, whom the Giants selected with the No. 4 overall pick of the 2020 draft, held his own. He looked solid and was, by far, the team’s best lineman.

PFF gave him a grade of 60.8 (for reference, the second-highest grade among New York’s linemen was Gates’ 54.4).

The Giants’ “hog mollies” are so bad that Thomas was expected to immediately become the team’s best lineman, which seems to be the case, but he won’t be able to make an impact alone.

The rest of the line simply must be better, or Jones and co. won’t be able to get anything done. Barkley is arguably the best running back in the league but even he won’t be able to be productive behind such an atrocious offensive line.

Sterling Shepard was efficient and did what was asked of him but wasn’t targeted much. Evan Engram continues to be a question mark as he was a contributing factor to the loss.

He’s still an incredibly poor blocker, but that was coupled with sloppy play on Monday. He caught just two of seven targets for nine yards, making some bad drops and plays in the process.

Darius Slayton was another bright spot. He and Jones make quite the dynamic duo. Slayton led the way for the offense, racking up 102 yards on six catches with a pair of touchdowns.

He continues to make the case to become the Giants’ No. 1 wide receiver (which I thought he should’ve already been coming into the season). The Giants seem to truly have found a gem in their 2019 fifth-round pick.

Let’s move on to the defense.

The defensive unit got off to a hot start but faltered as the game progressed. Overall, however, it was improved from last year.

Dexter Lawrence, who’s already emerging as one of the better interior defenders in the game, got right back to it on Monday. He was impressive and helped solidify the Giants defensive line. In fact, the entire line was very efficient.

Dalvin Tomlinson was also excellent, and B.J. Hill as well as Leonard Williams looked good. Williams, who was acquired from the New York Jets in a questionable deal last year, finally recorded a sack and looked improved from 2019.

The linebackers impressed as well. Devante Downs, who shouldn’t even really be a starter, was by far the weakest of the group, but the rest did a pretty fine job.

Markus Golden, one of the Giants’ best defensive players in 2019, was solid. Lorenzo Carter and Blake Martinez were even better.

Carter was one of the best defensive players on the field, earning an impressive 81.5 PFF grade, good for 10th among all edge defenders in Week 1.

Martinez, whom many had mixed feelings about when the Giants added him this offseason, was the best. Martinez has always been a tackling machine, and that certainly was the case on Monday.

He finished the game with 11 total tackles (tied for first among all linebackers in Week 1) and PFF gave him the highest grade — 83.9 — among all of his teammates, both on the offense and defensive sides of the ball.

This was a sign of promise and it seems like he truly is an upgrade from the disappointing Alec Ogletree.

Things start to get ugly when you look at how Big Blue’s cornerbacks and safeties played.

Overall, James Bradberry was impressive and might prove to be another nice addition to the squad, but that’s about it.

Jabrill Peppers had a rough game and must get back on track. Corey Ballentine has yet to play well for the Giants in his career and Monday’s game was no exception. Julian Love, who was very promising last year, additionally struggled.

Summary

Jones underwent a nice game but must be less sloppy moving forward. Engram may never be an above-average blocker but must improve as a receiver.

Barkley’s production was stymied by a poor offensive line, for what seems like the millionth time, but also needs to be better. Thomas looked like the real deal in his debut, but the rest of the line can’t leave him hanging.

The defense was impressive, especially the defensive line, but must stay consistent. The cornerbacks and safeties have no excuse to play as poorly as they did in Week 1 and need to pick up the slack.

The Giants will be facing a Chicago Bears team that isn’t as strong as the Steelers next week. If they work on their mistakes, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to win.

This game could very well prevent them from falling into a rut and could provide them with some momentum moving forward.

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