A talent-deficient New York Giants team has far surpassed preseason expectations. Following up on consecutive losing seasons 3-13, 5-11, 4-12, 6-10, and 4-13, with teams with arguably equal or better in talent, the Giants were supposed to be vying for another top-10 pick. Yet with three regular-season games remaining, the Giants find themselves with an 8-5-1 record and a decent shot at a playoff spot. In terms of the big picture, the most discouraging thing to come out of this year was losing five members of the 2022 draft class to season-ending injuries as well as the Kenny Golladay/Kadarius Toney fiascos.
The victory against the Washington Commanders was the most important game this franchise has played in since 2016. Not only did it keep their playoff aspirations alive, but it had been a long time since the Giants had won a prime time, nationally-televised game. It also prevented the Giants from the ignominy of potentially going winless in the NFC East. Entering that game, the New York was fading and Washington was surging. The Giants reversed that in dramatic fashion in hostile territory.
It’s quite possible that the game against the Commanders will be the final high note of the 2022 campaign. If it is, that’s OK. The Giants have two road games remaining, one against the 11-3 Minnesota Vikings and another against the 13-1 Philadelphia Eagles. The Giants are favored to lose both. The team’s playoff aspirations may come down to the New Year’s Day home game against the Indianapolis Colts. That contest is not a gimme. None are for the 2022 New York Giants.
The most realistic, best-case scenario for the Giants moving forward would probably be similar to their 1984 season. That was another Giants team that was supposed to finish dead last in the NFC East. They hung around .500, won three critical games in a row, but faded down the stretch, losing their last two games, including a 10-3 stinker against a bad New Orleans Saints team. The Giants backed into the playoffs on the next day when the Miami Dolphins beat the Dallas Cowboys. No one gave the Giants a chance in the Wild Card round as they had to travel to Anaheim to play a Los Angeles Rams team that crushed them during the regular season. The Giants pulled off a 16-13 upset. The loss the following week to the eventual Super Bowl Champion San Francisco 49ers did not hurt so much because most knew this Giants team had pretty much gone as far as it could given its talent level at the time.
The reason I bring this all up is I am curious to see how this all ends. Is the good stuff already over? Or do the Giants have a little more magic left in them? Can they pull off an upset in Minnesota or Philadelphia? Can they clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Colts? Do we dare to dream that they can even pull off one upset in the playoffs? That’s the storyline for the final few games.
THE INJURY REPORT:
- TE Nick Vannett (shoulder – probable)
- OT Evan Neal (shoulder – probable)
- OG Shane Lemieux (toe – out)
- DL Leonard Williams (neck – probable)
- OLB Kayvon Thibodeaux (elbow – probable)
- CB Adoree’ Jackson (knee – out)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Giants fans are pretty giddy this week because of the key win against Washington. The offensive highlight of that game was the 18-play, 97-yard drive that ended with a touchdown and a 14-3 lead. However, the same basic problem that has haunted the New York offense for years now remains: an inability to score sufficient points. Take away the defensive score, and the Giants scored 13 offensive points against Washington, and six of those came on two 50-yard field goals. Not good. Despite their winning record, the Giants are -25 in point differential this season and have average only 20.5 points per game. The fewest points the team has scored is 13, the most it has scored is 27. But if you went into each game predicting the Giants would score only 20 points, there is a good chance you would hit the nail on the head, just like in three of the last four games.
The problem for the Giants is they are facing a Minnesota Vikings team that is 8th in scoring (averaging 25 points per game). The Giants are going to have to score more than 20 points to win this game. The good news is they are facing a Minnesota defense that is dead last in yards allowed (399 yards per game), being 31st against the pass and 18th against the run. They are also 28th in scoring defense, allowing almost 25 points per game. That’s why their point differential is only +2 despite their impressive 11-3 record. Of course, the 40-3 drubbing they received by the Dallas Cowboys have skewed that number a bit.
Long story short is this: if the anemic New York Giants passing offense can’t make some plays against this defense, then we will know it is as bad as it has looked all season against far better defenses. The Vikings are not the Eagles (2nd overall, 1st against the pass), Commanders (3rd, 8th), Cowboys (8th, 3rd), etc.
That said, the Vikings do have some defensive players to worry about. Edge rusher Za’Darius Smith, who moves around all over the defensive front, is one of the top pass rushers in the league with 9 sacks and the second-highest pressure rate (76). Fellow edge defender Danielle Hunter leads Minnesota with 9.5 sacks. Left corner Patrick Peterson may be on the wrong side of 30, but he’s still a good player and can shut down anyone who the Giants line up against him. Safety Harrison Smith is an instinctive, wily veteran who makes plays on the football and has five interceptions. The left defensive end is our old friend Dalvin Tomlinson. Inside linebackers Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks have over 230 tackles between the two of them.
The Vikings will challenge Evan Neal in pass protection as well the interior of the line with Za’Darius Smith. Since the Vikings have given up so many passing yards, the temptation will be for Brian Daboll and Mike Kakfa to open up the passing game a bit more. That might be a bit dicey with Smith and Hunter prowling around. The short-passing game that gets the ball out of Jones’ hand quickly, preventing negative plays seems to be preventing the big mistake. In addition, Saquon Barkley is coming off a strong performance and the Vikings’ run defense, while stronger than their pass defense, is still mediocre. A few more deep shots off of play action may be justified, but it may be wise to largely stick with what the team does well at this point. Keep in mind, the big reason the Giants won last weekend was they won the turnover battle. The Giants will also want to maintain long drives to keep Minnesota’s offense off of the field as much as possible.
Big picture time. Of course winning or losing this game matters. But what is more important is this game will give the Giants’ brass yet another late-season read on Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley. Monumental contract decisions are about to be made.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
As mentioned above, the Vikings are 8th in scoring. They are 13th overall in yards gained, 7th in passing and 28th in rushing. That does not bode well for a New York secondary that is still without two of its top three players in safety Xavier McKinney and cornerback Adoree’ Jackson.
There are five targets to worry about in the passing game: WR Justin Jefferson (111 catches, 1,623 yards, 7 touchdowns), WR Adam Thielen (66 catches, 686 yards, 5 touchdowns), WR K.J. Osborn (45 catches, 457 yards, 4 touchdowns), TE T.J. Hockenson (39 catches, 335 yards, 1 touchdown), and RB Dalvin Cook (33 catches, 265 yards, 2 touchdowns). For comparison, the top two targets on the Giants are Barkley (47 catches, 294 yards, 0 touchdowns) and WR Richie James (42 catches, 403 yards, 3 touchdowns).
The issues with the Minnesota passing game are twofold. First, Jefferson is a monster who is “open” even when he is double-covered. He’s arguably the game’s best receiver and no cornerback on the Giants right now is going to be able to handle him on a consistent basis. The best the Giants can hope and pray for is to limit the damage he does. Second, the Vikings have the ability to spread the ball around not only to two other receivers, but also their tight end and running back. Cook is really dangerous on screen passes. The Viking offense can effectively take what the defense gives them. This is what the New York offense is missing. Barkley and Bellinger can be used in the passing game, but the Giants simply don’t have three starting-caliber wideouts to threaten defenses down the field.
The 28th in rushing stat can also be a bit misleading. Cook has over 1,000 rushing yards, had scored eight rushing touchdowns (one less than Barkley), and is averaging 4.5 yards per carry (slightly better than Barkley). That said, expect Wink Martindale to once again play more defensive backs and take his chances with a lighter defensive front against the run (one of the key reasons why the Giants are 30th in run defense). In a nutshell, Wink has to pick his poison. He just doesn’t have the defensive backs to play it straight up.
Many eyes will be on “Defensive Player of the Week” Kayvon Thibodeaux, but Kayvon and Azeez Ojulari will be facing two good tackles in LT Christian Darrisaw and RT Brian O’Neill. Darrisaw is playing outstanding football in particular. The good news for the Giants is starting center Garrett Bradbury is out and the two guards have struggled in pass protection. This is game where Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence both could make a lot of noise.
QB Kirk Cousins has thrown for 24 touchdowns. He will likely go over 4,000 yards in this game. But he also has thrown 11 interceptions and fumbled five times (losing two). At times, he has had issues dealing with the blitz. I would expect some exotic looks from Martindale in this one.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Graham Gano is a big reason why the Giants are still alive. Jamie Gillan has also been punting better, including his kicks being downed inside the 20. The return game is still dicey however. For the Vikings, Kene Nwangwu has returned one kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown this year. On the flip side, the Vikings have had three kicks blocked this year (two by the kicker and one by the punter).
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Brian Daboll on Justin Jefferson: “Teams have him double teamed and a safety over the top of him, and Cousins is still throwing it to him. And you tell the quarterback, ‘Hey, there’s two guys there and a safety over there,’ but he trusts him. He’s an exceptional player. He’s tough to defend… They move him everywhere. So, obviously, he’s smart… He played in the slot; he played outside. Again, he’s a fun guy to watch when you’re not getting ready to play him. I’ve got a lot of respect for his game and what he’s done in the early part of his career.”
THE FINAL WORD:
Both teams are coming off emotional wins, but the Vikings had one more day to prepare and did not lose a day to travel. Minnesota is also 7-1 at home. Without McKinney and Jackson, it’s tough to see how the Giants are going to match-up against the Minnesota passing game. Cook is also very capable of running wild. In addition, unless the Giants win the turnover margin again by +2 or more, it’s also tough to see the Giants scoring more than 20-24 points. That all said, if the Giants keep this close, or somehow manage to pull off the upset, this would be another statement win late in the season on par with the Commanders game.