As hard as it might be to believe, the New York Giants are still in contention to win the NFC Eastern Division. Despite their 3-7 record, which included 4 losses by seven points or less, the Giants are only 1 game out of first place in the extremely challenged NFC East.
The fact that they are still in the race, in and of itself, should not be the sole reason for optimism. Whoever emerges as the NFC East division champion will still have to face what is likely to be far better competition. The real reason for optimism regarding the New York Giants is that they are playing better each week. And their marked improvement is tangible.
Revisiting last week’s 27-17 win over the Philadelphia Eagles, all one had to do was look into Daniel Jones eyes to know that the outcome of this game would be different from the 6 losses incurred earlier in the season. Jones gritty determination and improvement with ball handling was clearly evident. No longer willing to be a laughingstock, Jones put this team on his back for the entire 60 minutes and drove them to a complete game 27-17 win which included two long rushing touchdowns by himself (one of which was negated by a holding penalty). Although probably deserved, Jones can’t be given all of the credit for the win.
Assisted by quality performances for a second week in a row by Wayne Gallman and free agent acquisition Alfred Morris, the Giants running game is clearly improving. Gallman ran for 53 yards on 18 carries and had two rushing touchdowns in the game. He appears to be implementing a jump cut which has helped him gain a few extra yards per carry. Morris, who had a very impressive game against his former team (Washington) the week earlier, continued his effective running to the tune of 34 yards on 8 carries. Without a homerun threat like Saquon Barkley, the Giants appear to be forging ahead with a running game that is finding its identity thanks to improving offensive line play.
Whatever they are doing with this offensive line, it is resulting in increased production with at least 160 yards on the ground in each of the past 3 games. Whether it’s rotating players in and out of the lineup, the insertion of Shane Lemieux into the left guard position when Will Hernandez was out, improved performances by Andrew Thomas at left tackle or the encouraging performance of Matt Peart whenever he has been in the game, it is working. Hopefully the surprise firing of offensive line coach Marc Columbo and the hiring of Dave DeGuglielmo will not be too disruptive to the development of the line.
As for the receiving corps, Darius Slayton continues to be their highest production player with 5 receptions for 93 yards against Philadelphia. Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate, Dion Lewis and Tight End Evan Engram formed a competent supporting cast. Newly inserted free agent rookie Austin Mack has the appearance of a keeper after his long reception in last week’s victory over Washington.
Now for the “bend but not break” defense which up until last week both bent and broke. Not this week (or last). Although the Giants D gave up double digit leads in six straight games this year, perhaps a statement is being made with this second straight win. We have said it repeatedly; there is talent on this defense. However, there is a clear lack of talent in some key places, like cornerback opposite the impressive James Bradberry. Isaac Yiadom gives up more big plays than he makes. The rookie cornerback covering the slot receiver, Darnay Homes appears to be instrumental in defending more big plays. The same can be said of Safety Jabrill Peppers, who led the team with 7 tackles including a ½ sack against the Eagles. Rookie safety Xavier McKinney will be coming off the IR soon. There are great expectations in place for him.
Patrick Graham’s defense did what it was supposed to do. With the exception of allowing a Boston Scott 50-yard catch and run, the Giants D limited the Eagles big plays. Perhaps most importantly, unlike several of the games played earlier in the season, the Giants were able to get off the field on third down. Pressure up front continues to be provided by Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson and Leonard Williams. Newly acquired Trent Harris contributed by providing an important sack. The linebackers, led by the overachieving Blake Martinez, continue to be effective.
Our friend and renowned football enthusiast Gregory Frank provided his insights on the Giants 27-17 win last Sunday. Here are his observations:
- Although Daniel Jones has gotten the brunt of the blame for his tendency to be turnover prone, much of that blame can be also be attributed to an offensive line that still has far to go in being an effective pass-blocking unit. According to ESPN, the Giants are last in the NFL in pass blocking win rate, at 44%. What is pass blocking win rate, you ask. An offensive lineman needs to sustain his block for at least 2.5 seconds. If he can do so, that’s a win. Whether that statistic is what led to the recent firing of offensive line coach Marc Columbo is unclear, but it certainly didn’t help.
- James Bradberry showed Sunday that he is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL right now. Against the Eagles, Bradberry allowed just two completions for a mere 15 yards, while breaking up two passes. Those two break-ups, by the way, added to his tied-for-the-league total of 14.
- The NFC East intra-divisional record is 8-8, and is an abysmal 2-18-1 outside the division. If the Giants can beat Dallas later this season, they will finish with an intra-division record of 4-2. One or two more wins, perhaps against Cincinnati and Cleveland, may be enough to secure the division title. Yes, it’s that kind of season for the NFC East, but a playoff berth is a playoff berth, however you get there.
The Giants undoubtedly played their best game of the season against the Eagles in last week’s victory. Can they keep the momentum going and ultimately take charge of the NFC Eastern Division? Time will tell. One thing seems clear; head coach Joe Judge appears to be leading the New York Giants in the right direction.
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