There was an emerging star in the secondary in Xavier McKinney. There was a versatile and heady youngster in Julian Love, filling in capably with Logan Ryan unavailable. But there was Adoree’ Jackson as a speed cornerback for only 19 snaps before he exited with a quad injury. That meant the Giants needed to rely on several players with modest levels of experience to get through last Sunday’s game with the Eagles.
Lesser-known players such as Darnay Holmes and Steven Parker and J.R Reed had to play prominent roles and somehow, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham made it all work in a 13-7 victory, as Eagles second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts looked indecisive and scatter-armed and threw three interceptions.
Something else was also needed. James Bradberry, the highest-paid member of the defensive backfield, had to live up to his billing as the team’s top cornerback. Sometimes — often, actually — the best players have to be at their best before the less-heralded teammates can make a difference.
Bradberry answered the call.
He has not had as strong a second season with the Giants as he put together in 2020, when he made good on the three-year, $43.5 million contract the Giants shelled out for him. The best cornerback was far from at his best last week in Tampa. He took a bad angle and overran Chris Godwin on a 13-yard run and catch for the Bucs’ first touchdown. In the third quarter, Bradberry did not contest Mike Evans on a third-and-11 pass play that went for 17 yards for the first down. Later in the quarter, Bradberry allowed himself to get boxed out in the end zone, making it easy for Tom Brady to locate Evans on a 5-yard scoring strike.
Bradberry’s grade in that game from Pro Football Focus: A season-low 36.9 overall grade and 32.8 in coverage.
Six days later, Bradberry’s grades against the Eagles: 61.9 overall, 65.3 in coverage.
“I was definitely a little disappointed in my performance against Tampa so I definitely wanted to put a good performance together this week,’’ Bradberry said on Monday.
What he accomplished in Week 12 against the Eagles stood out for the right reasons. He was matched primarily against DeVonta Smith, the outstanding rookie from Alabama, and Bradberry dominated this duel. He limited Smith to two receptions for 22 yards. Smith was targeted only four times by Hurts and looked extremely frustrated as he approached head coach Nick Sirianni prior to the final shot for the Eagles, when Hurts’ final pass was not secured by Jalen Reagor at the Giants’ 1-yard line.
“He wants the ball in a critical situation like that,’’ Sirianni said. “They were playing two-man in that scenario and they had played it three snaps in a row, and it was two-man on that one as well. The type of the play that he wanted in that scenario wasn’t going to be good. But I love the fact that he wants the ball in crunch time and wants it on his shoulders when the game is on the line. That’s what he was telling me, and I respect that.’’
From his film study, Bradberry determined his best course of action was to get his hands on Smith at the line of scrimmage as much as possible “because I knew how quick he was.’’ When Bradberry played off-coverage, he made sure to keep his eyes on Smith as long as possible, knowing the Eagles’ penchant for using Smith on double moves.
The most effective games for Bradberry are the games when he is hardly noticed. He does not preen or carry on the way many top cornerbacks do. Keeping the top receiver on the other team quiet is the validation Bradberry needs to know he did his job.
“He’s a guy that works extremely hard for us,’’ coach Joe Judge said. “He’s a really good leader for us. His style, he’s a leader by example. He’s not afraid to put his arm around a guy and challenge him.’’
There are times when the coaches and medical staff plan to give Bradberry all or part of that day’s practice off, a veteran break, if you will. That plan is not always executed. Often, Bradberry drifts onto the field for one-on-one coverage drills. If my teammates are out there working, I should be there with them, Bradberry tells his coaches.
Smith, the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner, is more advanced than most rookies. That did not help him in his first matchup with Bradberry.
“I feel like as he continues to grow and continues to learn football that will only help his performance as he goes on with his career in the NFL,’’ Bradberry said.
That is for the future. Score Round One to Bradberry.Internet Explorer Channel Network