(CBSNewYork)- The first game of the Joe Judge era with the New York Giants offered some positive and negative moments. In the 26-16 loss to the Steelers, the defense, with several new additions playing a big role, showed flashes of cohesion and the ability to grow into a solid unit.
“They played better than probably most people expected. I think that they put together a very prideful night. Opening night emotion. It all came together,” said NFL on CBS analyst Charles Davis. “They added some key pieces like Blake Martinez at linebacker who had 12 tackles. James Bradberry out on the corner made some really nice plays, forced a fumble had a couple of pass breakups. That defensive front I thought was good anyway. They have been building it over the past few years and I think Leonard Williams is ready to play his best football in the league.”
The unit held the Steelers to just 6.1 yards per pass, sacking Ben Roethlisberger twice. But, third downs were an issue as the Steelers converted on eight of 15 opportunities (53%). The unit was unable to keep the Steelers from converting in the red zone as well allowing scores on three of four trips by Pittsburgh. But, overall, the defense didn’t appear to be the issue.
The bigger problem, and it’s one that carries over from last year, was the offensive line. While Daniel Jones was sacked just three times for 17 yards, he took eight hits as the Steelers blitzed 61% of the time. The problems remained in the running game too as star back Saquon Barkley had no room to operate (6 yards on 15 carries) and the team totaled just 29 rushing yards on 20 attempts. The Steelers racked up 11.5 tackles for loss in the game, living in the Giants backfield.
“For them it’s going to be the offensive line. They have to figure out the offensive line. The two guards are very solid with Hernandez and Zeitler,” said Davis. “But, left tackle is a rookie, even though he’s the number one pick. The right tackle is a journeyman who has started, not started all of that. Then, the center is a converted tackle whose first NFL game at center was Monday night. That is something that has to happen because you cannot waste Saquon Barkley not having any possibility of gaining yardage.”
That line doesn’t get much of a respite with a trip to Chicago to face a Bears front featuring Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and, if he’s healthy, Robert Quinn. While the Bears are down space eating nose tackle Eddie Goldman, who opted out of the season, they present a serious test for the Giants line.
Davis, who will be on the call for Sunday’s game, does believe there’s a chance the line will be better this week. He points to the fact that the line has likely been hearing the discussion of their play since Monday night which could push them even further in their progressions.
“Typically, prideful players like that, they come back and play better the next time. Gates’ first game ever at center, I bet he’ll be much better in the next game. Fleming at right tackle, has to settle in. And Andrew Thomas is going to get better every week,” said Davis. “Will they move that front of Chicago? They’re going to need to because if they get into a situation where they’re just throwing the football, if Robert Quinn is back, Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, see where I’m going? Those are battles you don’t want to deal with in obvious pass situations.”
The Giants enter Sunday’s matchup with the Bears as 5.5 point underdogs with kickoff set for 1 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday.