Undermanned NY Giants no match for Cleveland Browns as playoff hopes slip in 20-6 loss

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /
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Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns dominated the undermanned NY Giants, 20-6 Sunday night putting their playoff hopes in peril

Sunday night’s game carried massive implications both in the NFC East and AFC Wild Card races, but the NY Giants — besieged by injuries  — offered little resemblance to a playoff team.

Matched up against one of the hottest offenses in the league, in the Cleveland Browns, and dragging a depleted defense to buttress an offense led by Colt McCoy, the Giants were cut down to size in a 20-6 loss Sunday night at MetLife Stadium that was never all that competitive.

While the offense took on a more aggressive game plan with Freddie Kitchens calling plays after offensive coordinator Jason Garrett tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week, the defense — which had become a strength during a four-game winning streak last month — offered little resistance against quarterback Baker Mayfield, running back Nick Chubb and the Cleveland Browns.

Cleveland produced 392 yards of total offense and just gashed the NY Giants’ front seven for 106 rushing yards when Mayfield wasn’t surgically targeting the soft spots in New York’s zone coverage.

Meanwhile, after entering Sunday averaging just 18.3 points per game, it was obvious that head coach Joe Judge felt he needed to pull out all stops to score touchdowns rather than field goals but even the rookie head coach’s aggressiveness didn’t give the scoreboard operator much work.

On a pair of first half possessions deep in the Browns red zone, the NY Giants had opportunities to attempt chip shot Graham Gano field goals, went for it both both times unsuccessfully. In what is essentially a playoff game, with a backup quarterback, points are going to be at a premium for any offense — let alone the second-lowest scoring offense in the league.

Overall, the Giants were 0-for-3 in the red zone in the first half, continuing season-long woes inside the 20-yard line for an offense that ranks 29th in red zone scoring percentage.

Judge’s trademark aggressiveness might have been deployed in this case to jumpstart the slumping offense, but taking points early might have altered the outcome.

The Giants entered Sunday night with just a 2% chance of winning the NFC East Wild Card, and now trail the Washington Football Team by one game with two games to play. Two weeks removed from vaulting to the top of the NFC East standings with an upset win over the Seattle Seahawks, the Giants’ postseason hopes are in legitimate peril after losing to the red-hot Browns.

Here’s our instant analysis of Sunday night’s loss:

Undermanned defense no match for Mayfield

The Giants’ secondary was a M*A*S*H unit on Sunday night, without cornerbacks James Bradberry or Darnay Holmes, significantly hamstringing defensive coordinator Patrick Graham.

Without two of the Giants’ top defensive backs, Graham was forced to drop the secondary into a soft zone coverage, and Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield stood in the pocket and played target practice with Jarvis Landry, David Njoku and the rest of Cleveland’s pass catchers.

Because the support wasn’t there on the back end, Graham wasn’t able to dial up some of the more exotic blitz and delayed rush packages that were hallmarks of the game plan two weeks ago in a win over the Seattle Seahawks.

Instead, with Isaac Yiadom, Julian Love, and rookie Xavier McKinney thrust into vital roles, and without a dominant edge rusher on the roster, Mayfield had plenty of time to hit the soft spots in the zone coverage while completing 27-of-32 passes for 297 yards and a pair of touchdowns.