I can’t recall a time where fans of the New York Giants were this giddy despite a .300 winning percentage and still being in contention for a top 5 draft pick after Thanksgiving. But here we are. The borderline delusion is a product of being a fan of a team that is usually out of post-season contention in October, but now is still very much being alive for a playoff spot in arguably the worst division in NFL history.
The mood swing is palpable. Something’s changed. I suspect that the Giants finally beating the Philadelphia Eagles is a huge part of it. Indeed, had Evan Engram just held onto that pass, the Giants would have swept the Eagles this year. Never mind that Philly sucks. Even when they’ve been bad in the past in recent years they’ve owned the Giants. Not this year.
So with six games left, everyone in the division is bunched up together and everyone has a shot at the NFC East title. Now begins the final sprint. For the Giants, it starts with the Cincinnati Bengals, a 2-7-1 team in the best division in the AFC. The Bengals just lost their starting quarterback and there are rumors of locker room dissension.
This is a golden opportunity for the Giants. A win on Sunday combined with an Eagles loss and the Giants will be tied for first place in the NFC East with five games to play. They haven’t been in this position since 2016. Meaningful football in December? Who would have thunk it?
THE INJURY REPORT
- WR Sterling Shepard (hip/toe – probable)
- OG Kevin Zeitler (concussion – probable)
- CB Brandon Williams (ankle – questionable)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE
The Giants are still 30th in yards gained and points scored. The team still doesn’t even average 20 points per game. But the needle feels like it is pointing up because of the 23 and 27 point offensive “explosions” in the past two games. This is a product of a more consistent offensive line play that has led to a more consistent ground attack that has led to more consistent quarterbacking play. Daniel Jones has not turned the football over in the past two games. The Giants are 2-0 in those games. As Sy’56 has pointed out, that’s no coincidence.
However, just when things looked like they were on the upswing, in a shocking move, Joe Judge fired offensive line coach Marc Colombo after the last game. Now newcomer and the much-traveled Dave DeGuglielmo must catch up to speed rapidly with his new coaches, players, terminology, and playbook. How will everyone respond? That’s the great unknown. This is a major transition for any team to make in the middle of an NFL season. The line could continue its upward trend, stagnate, or regress. And everything on offense hinges on the outcome.
The good news for the Giants is they finally will face a lesser caliber defensive team. The Cincinnati Bengals are 26th in defense in terms of yardage allowed and 22nd in points allowed. They are 30th in run defense and 22nd in pass defense. The Bengals’ defensive coordinator, Lou Anarumo, was Pat Shurmur’s defensive backs coach with the Giants in 2018. Reports out of Cincy say he is very much unpopular with his players.
The Giants need to keep this simple. Run the football against the NFL’s 30th ranked run defense. That will continue to make life easier for the offensive line and Daniel Jones. It may be boring. It may not be conducive to putting a lot of points on the board. But the Giants don’t have the players to do more than that at this time. Grind it out, move the chains, control the clock, win the field position battle. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot with negative plays and turnovers.
On a side note, some important reserves may not be available for this game due to COVID-19 protocols. That includes back-up tight end Kaden Smith and back-up offensive tackle Matt Peart. Newcomer wide receiver Dante Pettis is also affected.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE
Statistically, the defense has been sliding and is now a middle-of-the-pack unit, 17th in yards allowed and 12th in points allowed. That feels opposite of fan impressions because the team has been playing better in recent weeks. And despite the fact that the Giants allowed 156 yards rushing to the Eagles, New York does remain 6th in run defense. Pass defense (24th) is a different story.
The good news for the Giants is that Patrick Graham and his defensive assistants are doing a great job with the players they have. Moreover, the Giants look like they are going to get some injured players back soon. Linebackers Tae Crowder and Oshane Ximines have begun practicing and may come off of Injured Reserve. So too may safety Xavier McKinney, the 2nd-round pick who hasn’t played all year. That means that other than Injured Reserve players Lorenzo Carter, Ryan Lewis, and Adrian Colbert, the Giants are practically at full strength on defense as we approach December.
The Bengals lost QB Joe Burrow, the first player taken in the 2020 NFL Draft, for the season last week. Instead of starting his immediate back-up against the Giants, the Bengals have elevated Practice Squad quarterback Brandon Allen to the 53-man roster and he will reportedly start on Sunday. Allen is a 2016 6th-round draft pick who is already with his fourth NFL team. He started three games for the Broncos in 2019, completing only 46 percent of his passes. That’s the extent of his regular-season experience. Huge advantage for the Giants! Right? Should be. But we all know the Giants’ long and tortured history of facing no-name back-up quarterbacks. For some reason, historically speaking, the Giants don’t make anything easy.
Even before the injury to Burrow, the Bengals were a subpar offensive team (20th in yards, 26th in points). They don’t run the ball very well, but they do have some good targets to throw to, including wide receivers Tyler Boyd (69 catches), rookie Tee Higgins (43 catches), and veteran A.J. Green (35 catches). When I watched the Bengals-Washington game, Cincy appeared to favor the short passing game. I would think they would continue to do that with Brandon Allen at quarterback.
It’s always the same defensive game plan when facing an inexperienced back-up at quarterback. Stop the run and force the quarterback to beat you. Mix up your coverages to confuse the QB and cause him to make stupid mistakes.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Fingers crossed on Graham Gano coming back from COVID this week or else the Giants will have to rely on Ryan Santoso, who has never attempted a field goal or extra point in a real NFL game.
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH
Head Coach Joe Judge on the NFC East race: “I think when you look at this division, this is really the starting point for the division. We’re coming out of Thanksgiving…everyone is really on equal ground. The only thing that matters is what we do from this point forward.”
THE FINAL WORD
I still shake my head at some of the discussions in The Corner Forum by some of the fans who can’t seem to process that the Giants are still not a very good football team. 3-7 is 3-7. Bottom-ranked offense and middle-of-the-pack defense. And if the Giants were in a normal division, the team would be in last place again.
That all said, it is fun to be alive after Thanksgiving and one can hope and dream. After all, that’s what being a fan is all about.
That Giants have been given a tremendous opportunity. They face a bad team starting a practice squad quarterback on Sunday. Win and they could be tied for first place. Don’t blow it!