The Giants have a complicated history facing backup quarterbacks.
In 2002 and 2003, they lost to the Atlanta Falcons when Doug Johnson and then Kurt Kittner – who threw for all of 65 yards – played football’s most important position. The 2007 Super Bowl champion Giants lost a late-season game to Washington despite Todd Collins completing only eight passes in his first start in 10 years. Three years later, Dallas’ Tony Romo fractured his clavicle when he was tackled by linebacker Michael Boley in the first Giants-Cowboys game. In a rematch three weeks later, Jon Kitna threw for 327 yards and three touchdowns in 33-20 Dallas victory in Jason Garrett’s first game as head coach.
The Giants were more successful facing Green Bay’s Scott Tolzien, who threw for 339 yards in his first career start in 2013, and Chase Daniel, who passed for 285 yards in Chicago’s overtime loss in MetLife Stadium two years ago.
This season, Nick Mullens started for San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 3 and threw for 343 yards and a touchdown in a 49ers victory. On Oct. 11, Andy Dalton replaced the injured Dak Prescott and led the Cowboys on a pair of field goal drives in the last two minutes in Dallas’ 37-34 victory. Against Washington on Nov. 8, Alex Smith replaced another injured starter, Kyle Allen, and threw for 325 yards. But he also tossed two late interceptions and the Giants held on for a 23-20 victory.
The Giants will face another backup this week when they meet the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday in Paul Brown Stadium. Joe Burrow, the NFL’s No. 1 draft choice this year, suffered a serious, season-ending knee injury three days ago in Washington and will soon undergo surgery. Burrow was replaced by Ryan Finley. But for the Giants game, Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor reached into his practice squad and signed Brandon Allen, who reportedly will make his fourth career start.
Coach Joe Judge wouldn’t be surprised if both Allen and Finley face the Giants.
“We have seen Brandon Allen,” Judge said today. “We saw him in Denver, we saw him in L.A., we saw him maybe in the preseason … so there’s been some familiarity with this guy. The thing you see with him is he’s a confident player back there. He’s a very accurate passer, he’s knowledgeable within the system. He can make the guys around him better by distributing the ball.
“Then Finley, the thing that he really brings to the table is he’s an aggressive young quarterback, he can make the throws, but he’s athletic. He can break the pocket, he can extend it, he’s not hesitant to pull that ball down and scramble and make plays with his legs. Look, right now we’re preparing for Allen, who was obviously announced today through the press. But we’re preparing for Allen as well as Finley because we have to expect to see at least a little bit of both throughout the game. Both are very capable quarterbacks, both present a lot of challenges. We have to really make sure we’re working hard this week for both guys.”
Allen entered the NFL in 2016 as a sixth-round draft choice by Jacksonville. He never played for the Jaguars, nor for the Los Angeles Rams, with whom he spent most of the 2017-18 seasons. Allen’s only NFL action came in three starts last season for the Denver Broncos (a victory against Cleveland followed by losses at Minnesota and Buffalo). Allen completed 39 of 84 passes (46.4%) for 515 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
He signed with the Bengals as a free agent in August, was cut on Sept. 5 and signed to the practice squad the following day.
“We’re confident, but nobody in this building should be overconfident,” safety Logan Ryan said. “Backup quarterbacks have won some games against us. Every quarterback won some games against us early in the year. (I’ve) watched a lot of him. He’s got probably the best receiver corps in the league to throw to (including Tyler Boyd, A.J. Green and rookie Tee Higgins)
“When he came in for Denver last year, he was throwing the ball to (Courtland) Sutton all over the place. It seems like this guy is not afraid to push the ball down field. He’s not worried about that. They have some guys who can catch the ball down the field.”
The Giants have acquired extra intel on Allen from Bret Bielema, their outside linebackers coach/senior assistant who was the quarterback’s head coach in his final three seasons at the University of Arkansas.
“We talked about Brandon with Bret already, and the things he talks about are his poise, his composure, his competitiveness,” Judge said. “The tape really tells you what you need to know about the guy as a player. Knowing the guy’s mindset from his former head coach, that’s critical right there. Bret has a great tie with all of his players. He really understands what makes these guys tick and what kind guys these guys are in the huddle. He’s described Brandon as this guy is a leader, this guy is going to get in the huddle and he’s going to have 10 sets of eyes that are confident in what he’s telling them, and they’re going to go out and play aggressive for him. You watch his tape, he gives his receivers a chance to make plays down the field. That’s one thing about him. He’s not afraid to throw it into tight windows, and these receivers have all shown they’re very capable of making those 50/50 catches. This is an elite receiving group. We have to acknowledge that this is one of the best in the league, and these guys have made a ton of plays already down the field.”
That’s happened before when the Giants have faced reserve quarterbacks. They’ll go all out to make sure it doesn’t occur again on Sunday.