Colt McCoy starting over Daniel Jones in must-win Giants game
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Yup, it’s Colt McCoy in again, and Daniel Jones out.
This season — playing football through a pandemic — was always going to be an unsteady mixture of silly, stupid, serendipity, possibility and peril. Teams throughout the NFL navigated in and out, up and down. The Giants endured their share of disruption, and it took until Week 15 for the hammer to come down on them.
It is not too much to put on Sunday night’s game against the Browns at empty MetLife Stadium that it is save-the-season time for the Giants, as far as keeping those strange-but-true playoff aspirations up and running. The Giants go in without their starting quarterback. They go in without their best cornerback (and probably their best player) and their offensive coordinator and play-caller. A mighty rallying cry is needed for a team getting stretched thin.
Jones was awful in last week’s 26-7 loss to the Cardinals, unable to deal with the immobility from a strained right hamstring. He came out of that game with a sprained left ankle and was listed as questionable to play against the Browns. Questionable turned into no-go for Jones. Coach Joe Judge had no interest in waiting until game-day to make a determination, and after Saturday’s walk-through practice, it became apparent what the call needed to be. So McCoy, the 34-year-old backup who started and won in Seattle two weeks ago, is called out of the bullpen once more.
Jason Garrett tested positive for COVID-19 and is in quarantine, as did offensive Stephen Brown. Freddie Kitchens, the tight ends coach who called plays for the Browns in 2018 and was their head coach in 2019 (his tenure was short and not sweet) will replace Garrett and will run the offense for McCoy, who was a 2010 third-round pick of the Browns. What goes around comes around for McCoy and Kitchens.
James Bradberry, playing at a Pro Bowl level at cornerback, is on the reserve/COVID-19 list after he was deemed to be a high-risk close contact of someone (his chiropractor) who tested positive for the coronavirus. Of all the players the Giants cannot afford to be without, Bradberry might be the most indispensable of all.
It is quite a litany of loss for the Giants (5-8), who enter the week one game behind first-place Washington (6-7) in the NFC East. It is a considerable amount of adversity going into a game against one of the league’s ascendant teams.
The Browns (9-4) are in the thick of the AFC playoff chase and their 47-42 loss to the Ravens a week ago was an exhausting thrill-ride that showed just how punishing their ground game and quarterback Baker Mayfield can be when they are rolling.
“I think that what I learned in football throughout my life playing this game 20-plus years is that it never goes as planned, there’s always adversity, there’s challenges,’’ safety Logan Ryan said. “It doesn’t always come out how you might think on the schedule, especially this year with the challenge of COVID.”
With Garrett, the Giants have averaged just 18.3 points a game — only the Jets (14.1) are worse — so Kitchens does not have a high bar to vault. The challenge is tailoring the offense to what McCoy does well, which is getting the ball out of his hands quickly. The main reason he was able to pull off the upset against the Seahawks is because the Giants ran for a season-high 190 yards, led by Wayne Gallman with a career-high 135 yards. The Browns are middle-of-the-pack (16th in the league) in run defense, allowing 114.1 yards per game. If the Giants cannot run it often and well, it is highly unlikely McCoy can pass them into much success.
Replacing Bradberry is far more problematic — and actually impossible. Depth at cornerback is non-existent. Isaac Yiadom became an emergency starter and now never comes off the field. Rookie Darnay Holmes, at home in the slot, is out with a knee injury. It looks as if the plan will be to move safety Julian Love back to his old position as the outside cornerback in place of Bradberry. That leaves Logan Ryan back at deep safety alongside strong safety Jabrill Peppers. Rookie Xavier McKinney has at times been lined up as the slot corner since coming off injured reserve and he figures to be Holmes’ replacement there.
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