In last week’s preview, I wrote that if the New York Giants could upset the Baltimore Ravens that things will start to get really interesting. Well here we are. One upset win over a heavily-favored opponent might be a fluke. Two possibly. But three? More than half of the team’s five wins are against playoff-caliber teams they were supposed to lose to, including the Tennessee Titans (on the road), Green Bay Packers (in London), and the Ravens (MetLife hasn’t exactly been kind to the Giants in recent years). How good has it gotten? Watch this:
Objectively speaking, I am not even sure that it is in the best long-term interest of the Giants to be 5-1 in Year One of the latest rebuilding effort. But after years of simply horrific football, I’m setting all of that aside and just enjoying the ride at this point. Sundays are fun again and it’s been a long time since Giants fans could say that. Put it this way: the Giants have already surpassed their win total from 2021. And they will be playing meaningful football in November.
Enter the 2-4 Jacksonville Jaguars. Based on the commentary I’ve seen this week, knowledgeable Giants fans smartly have a healthy respect for the Jaguars and the risk this game poses. The Jaguars are not as bad as their record on the surface suggests. After a close loss to the Washington Commanders in Week 1, they clobbered the Indianapolis Colts 24-0 in Week 2 (at home), shocked the Los Angeles Chargers 38-10 in Week 3 (at home), lost a close game 29-21 to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 4 (on the road), before losing two close, but disappointing contests to the Houston Texans and Colts. In the first year of their own latest rebuilding effort, they are playing competitive football in every game and buying into the new program under ex-Eagles Head Coach and Giants tormentor Doug Pederson. Ironically, before the shocking 5-1 start by Daboll’s Giants, this is what many of us at best had hoped for in terms of our own team.
The Jaguars have a good defense and a franchise quarterback. They are also playing at home and are desperate. If that’s not enough for you, the Giants started off the week as 2.5 underdogs and the line has moved more in favor of Jacksonville.
My point? This is a different situation for Brian Daboll, his coaching staff, and the players. Winning has increased expectations. It has also increased confidence. But far better teams under coaches such as Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin have fallen victim to the “letdown” or “trap” games. This contest falls squarely into that category. The 2022 New York Giants are a very young team. Do they have the maturity to understand the opportunities and risks this particular game poses? The Giants have never won in Jacksonville. And if the players don’t take this game seriously, they can get badly embarrassed just like the Chargers did.
THE INJURY REPORT:
- RB Saquon Barkley (shoulder – probable)
- WR Kenny Golladay (knee – out)
- WR Kadarius Toney (hamstring – out)
- OT Andrew Thomas (elbow – probable)
- OC Jon Feliciano (groin – questionable)
- OLB Azeez Ojulari (calf – out)
- OLB Oshane Ximines (quad – out)
- CB Cor’Dale Flott (calf – out)
- S Jason Pinnock (ankle – questionable)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
You may hate it. You may love it. But the Daniel Jones 2022 redemption tour continues. For those who haven’t noticed, Jones has FOUR game-winning, 4th-quarter drives in six games this year. Three of those games have been 4th-quarter comebacks. And he’s doing this behind an offensive line that has been shaky in pass protection (under duress in 40 percent of his passing attempts) and a wide receiver corps that no one outside of the diehard fan base could even name. Plus, he’s still playing on a bum ankle. In the latest game, it wasn’t Jones who melted down in the 4th quarter, it was former League MVP Lamar Jackson who threw a stupid interception and fumbled the ball upon being touched. I said it last week and I’ll say it again, since the opener, Jones hasn’t turned the ball over (the one pick against Dallas came when David Sills fell down).
Aside from Saquon Barkley and the question about his future contract status, there are only two targets on this team who I am sure will be here in 2023 and they are Daniel Bellinger and Wan’Dale Robinson. I don’t think it is a coincidence that Jones started throwing touchdowns again last Sunday given the return of Robinson and the continued development of Bellinger. Robinson only played 15 snaps, but he had a big impact in the game with one touchdown and two big 3rd-down conversions. Bellinger has improved not only as a blocker, but he’s becoming a play-maker, something he wasn’t in college. If these two and Barkley (who has a worrisome shoulder issue) can stay healthy, the offense should remain somewhat respectable. This is especially true as the offensive line continues to gain experience, cohesion, and chemistry.
What’s lacking from the New York offense right now is the deep passing game. Perhaps Darius Slayton can rekindle some of his past success at some point, but none of the Giants targets are threatening teams deep. This is impacting the rest of the offense as opposing teams can be more aggressive against defending Barkley as a runner and receiver. I’m not sure this issue can really be fixed until the offseason.
The Jaguars are not a great match-up for the New York offense. This is yet another tough defense as Jacksonville is ranked 11th overall in yards allowed (better than the 14th-ranked Giants) and 9th overall in points allowed (just a tick behind the Giants). Most notably, the Jaguars are third in run defense, allowing only 89 yards per game. That does not bode well for a New York offense that is largely dependent on the ground game, especially given that Jones’ ankle is probably still an issue (he only ran the ball three times for 10 yards against Baltimore, not counting kneel downs).
The strength of Jacksonville’s defense is their linebacking corps. Edge rusher Josh Allen is a player the Giants reportedly coveted in the 2019 NFL Draft. He leads the Jaguars with three sacks and 10 quarterback hits. Through six games, inside linebackers Devin Lloyd and Foye Oluokun have accumulated an incredible 114 tackles between them. Lloyd is also making his presence felt as a pass rusher and in coverage. He’s playing at an All-Pro level. The other edge rusher? Travon Walker was the first player taken overall in the 2022 NFL Draft. He’s an incredible athlete who can play the run, rush the passer, and even drop into coverage despite his background as a collegiate defensive lineman. These guys are really hard to run against.
Passing against the Jaguars is easier, as they rank 20th against the pass. But the Giants are 31st in the NFL in passing yards, averaging only 154 yards per contest. They will probably have to up that this week in order to win. So we’re looking at a strength-on-strength, weakness-on-weakness type of situation. The good news for the Giants is that while the Jaguars have the potential to be a very good pass-rushing team, they have not been getting home, with only 10 sacks on the year. On the flip side, Jacksonville is tied for fifth in interceptions with seven.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The New York Giants finished the 2021 season 21st in yards allowed and 23rd in points allowed. It’s not surprising that Wink Martindale has improved this unit to 14th in yards allowed and 8th in points allowed. What is shocking is his defense, which perennially a top-5 run defense in Baltimore, is currently ranked 28th, allowing almost 145 yards per game. Just as surprising, especially when you consider the Giants have rolled out guys with the names Fabian Moreau, Justin Layne, and Nick McCloud at corner, is that the team is 8th in pass defense, allowing only 195 yards per game.
I’ve got to think that the run defense number is gnawing at Wink. If so, this would be a good week for the Giants to start improving their run defense because the Jaguars are no slouches running the ball, and like to do so early and often in order to keep down-and-distance situations manageable. Travis Ettienne and James Robinson form a two-headed backfield, who together have rushed for 641 yards between them. Robinson is averaging 4.2 yards per carry while Ettienne is averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Both can keep the chains moving, but both can also break the big run.
Why has the New York run defense been so bad? My guess is there have been a variety of factors ranging from scheming (heavy use of defensive backs in some games) to personnel issues (injuries plus subpar run defense by specific players) to learning curve (this is a really complicated defense and Wink has admitted that his players are still learning on the job). Regardless of the factors, this is going to catch up to the Giants unless they dramatically improve their run defense. It did against the Cowboys and almost did against the Ravens.
The good news is that Leonard Williams is back. Dexter Lawrence is playing at a Pro Bowl level. Kayvon Thibodeaux should improve with experience. Jihad Ward may be the most underrated signing in the NFL. However, Azeez Ojulari will miss yet another game and surprising contributor Oshane Ximines will also be out this week. The Giants also need more consistency out of Tae Crowder and Jaylon Smith. Wink has also pointed out that the run defense of the defensive backs has been up-and-down.
Stating the obvious, when the Jaguars can run the ball, it makes life easier for franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Like the Giants, the Jaguars like to employ the short-to-intermediate passing game. That helps to prevent the pass rush from reaching Lawrence behind an offensive line that hasn’t been great protecting the passer. Sound familiar? The Jaguars do have some cornerstones up front, most notably right guard Brandon Scherff and tackles Cam Robinson and Jawaan Taylor. Again, sounds familiar. Pederson and Lawrence know that Wink will be blitzing a lot, so expect them to continue to try to get the ball out quickly, combined with a heavy emphasis on the run.
There are four players on the Jaguars with 30 catches or more: WR Christian Kirk (44 catches, 362 yards, 4 touchdowns), WR Zay Jones (37 catches, 227 yards, 1 touchdown), TE Evan Engram (32 catches, 208 yards), and WR Marvin Jones (30 catches, 208 yards, 1 touchdown). Slot receiver Kirk is the key. When the Jaguars were playing better, they got the ball to Kirk more. The match-up with Darnay Holmes here could be very significant.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Giants special teams are starting to find their rhythm and contribute to wins. A week after I knocked Gary Brightwell’s kick returning ability, he broke off his best return. In a game that is likely to be yet another closely-fought defensive struggle, special teams could prove decisive.
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Brian Daboll on QB Trevor Lawrence: “I think he’s doing a great job in Coach Pederson’s offense. He’s big. He can throw it accurately. He can move. They run him on some quarterback, not just keepers, but also quarterback designed runs, too. So, athletic, smart. He’s a really good person, too. He’s going to be a good player in this league for a long time.”
THE FINAL WORD:
I don’t think I would call this a “trap” game, but it could have the earmarks of a “letdown” game. The Giants have been expending a lot of emotional energy in recent weeks. That usually catches up with a team. This is a different type of test for Daboll and his players. Expectations are higher, most likely unreasonably so. We know the 2022 New York Giants can pull of the big upset. Can they win the games many now expect them to? The oddsmakers are predicting this team can’t keep it up. We shall see.
The one big thing the Giants have going for them right now is they never believe they are out of a game and they don’t quit. They are beginning to expect to win and that’s a tremendous advantage. The Jaguars don’t have that characteristic yet.