Richie James, New York Giants (January 1, 2023)

Richie James – © USA TODAY Sports

QUARTERBACK

-Daniel Jones: 19/24 – 177 yards/ 2 TD – 0 INT / 125.2 RAT

Jones added a game-high 91 yards on 11 carries, including another 2 touchdowns. This was the first time he was responsible for more than 2 touchdowns in a game since December 22, 2019 (his rookie season). That blew me away when I first looked into it. Considering the magnitude of this game and the fact his supporting cast is still well below average, I am labeling this the best performance of his career. While we have seen more production in previous games and more downfield/complex passing, the combination of his running and the fact he put this team on his back as they approached this win-and-in contest speaks volumes. Absolute enormous volumes. While IND is a bad team, they do not have a bad defense. Jones rose to the occasion and got the most out of himself and the players around him. He rallied this team together via action, not words. He was the first to pick up Slayton after the fumble. He put his body on the line numerous times. He never lost his mojo, it only strengthened. Dumb this down to the basics and that is exactly what a team needs out of a franchise quarterback.

Recency bias will put him onto the pedestal in this week’s episode of “Should NYG lock Jones up long term?” debate, a series that has seen more twists and turns than Ozark. Like always, I will remain on the outside of what I think NYG should do until everything is over. But a takeaway I have that nobody can dispute? Jones and Daboll have a good thing going and it is only ascending. All of this with, once again, a supporting cast that I still think ranks bottom third in the NFL. The next step in the evaluation will be how he responds to playoff football on the road. A different level of intensity, a different level of pressure.

RUNNING BACK

-Saquon Barkley: 12 att – 58 yards / 2 rec -5 yards

Another sign this offense has come a long way: Barkley’s 53 total yards were the fourth lowest of the year. The other three games he was held below 55? Loss to DET where they scored 18 points. Loss to DAL where they scored 20 points. Loss to PHI where they scored 22 points. This team is getting better in games where Barkley gets contained; to the point where they scored 38 points (the most since 12/22/2019) in a winning effort. If there is one negative on the lack of production, those four games under 55 yards have all come in the last 7 games.

The one catch here is Barkley had just 12 carries (he averages 18 per game). His usage has dropped a lot since the first half of the season and there are multiple variables behind that. It is a good thing. He looked fresh and explosive again. Not many backs can say that in Week 17 and it is good to know that, if necessary, he is able to touch the ball 35 times in the playoff game. I would like to see him on the sidelines next week against PHI.

-Matt Breida added 59 yards on 9 carries and 8 yards on 1 catch. Explosive day for him and someone I think we forget about. He is a dangerous player if he reaches the open field. Always has been. Gary Brightwell had 9 yards on 5 carries.

WIDE RECEIVER

-Richie James and Isaiah Hodgins came up big once again. This is why they play the games. Who would have predicted back in August that these two would be the 1-2 punch for the playoff-bound Giants down the stretch? Not only the 1-2 punch, but a formidable one. James caught all 7 targets for 76 yards and a touchdown. Hodgins caught 4 passes for 42 yards and a touchdown. 4 touchdowns over his last 5 games for the waiver claim from BUF and James has caught 26 of his last 30 targets. Tough, dependable, and smart.

-Last week I said Darius Slayton was going to score a big touchdown soon. If you told me NYG was going to put up nearly 40 points, I would have been positive Slayton was going to be a big part of it. I was wrong. He finished with 2 catches for 14 yards and was responsible for the biggest offensive gaffe of the day. Poor ball security after a catch led to a fumble on the first play of the third quarter.

-NYG is playing with a razor-thin receiver group. An injury to any one of these guys changes the offense immensely.

TIGHT END

-Daniel Bellinger got more involved in the passing game, catching all 3 targets for 42 yards. He has now caught 30 of 33 passes this year. There are 44 tight ends with 29+ targets this season. Bellinger’s 91% catch-percentage ranks number one. This is a guy who will not get a lot of attention from opposing defenses in the postseason, I guarantee it. If he can get open, I expect him to be a focal point in key spots. He has passed test after test as a receiver. The bigger positive, in my eyes, was the quality blocking grade he earned. He did allow a pressure in the passing game, but I thought his pop and violence made a difference on trap blocks. His mechanics are all there and I think the baseline power presence is enough to build upon. He is going to be a quality blocker over his career.

-Nick Vannett allowed a TFL and Chris Myrick barely played. Neither were targeted. NYG has taken a sharp turn away from extra tight end usage.

OFFENSIVE LINE

-This was the best overall performance we have seen from the offensive line all season. Just 4 pressures was a season-low besides the CHI game where Jones dropped back 17 times. There were also zero sacks allowed. The second time in three weeks we can say that. It looks like the group is coming together just at the right time.

-Andrew Thomas bounced back after a rough game against MIN. He pitched a shutout in pass protection. I still see some loss of power and I have no idea if the ankle/foot is acting up or weakening, but it is worth keeping an eye on. Rookie Evan Neal bounced back well after a terrible game last week. Just 2 pressures against an ascending Kwity Paye and more dominant looks as a run blocker. While it may be an unfair comment, Neal is going to be one of the most important players on this team come playoff time. The spectrum between his good and bad is massive and can dictate a lot when it comes to the offense’s consistency and big-play potential.

-Inside is where I noticed the most improvement when it came to consistency. While we saw a couple of negative plays, it was nothing game-changing or overly hurtful. Nick Gates was flagged for tripping. Jon Feliciano allowed a pressure. Ben Bredeson played a clean game. Mark Glowinski allowed just one pressure despite several one-on-one matchups against Grover Stewart and DeForest Buckner, one of the better inside duos in the league. He got away with a block in the back on the Jones rushing touchdown in the early third quarter. He is a savvy player and even though some of the tightness in his hips creates issues here and there, he does a lot of little things with his hands and angles that make a positive difference.

EDGE

-Azeez Ojulari was questionable all week and he barely played. I think that was partially a result of the point margin getting so high, so quickly. I bet he would have played more had the game been tighter. I expect him to sit out next week so he can be fresh for the playoffs.

-Kayvon Thibodeaux continues his red-hot play. It is good to see him do it without Ojulari on the field. While this fearsome foursome (one of you creative people needs to come up with a nickname for them) feeds off each other, seeing them do it individually means a lot. Man am I excited to see what they can do in the next few years. Thibodeaux finished with 5 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL, and a pass break up. The sack was unblocked but that was the kind of explosion and lack of hesitation that we did not see early in the year. That and his power against the run are the two biggest gains throughout the season and it has turned into production. The snow angel next to an injured Foles is a complete non-story.

-Tomon Fox added 2 tackles and some physical, stout run defense along with Jihad Ward, who added 4 tackles. Oshane Ximines played 31 snaps and came on the field in passing situations. He did not pressure the quarterback once and he missed a tackle. After a solid start this season, his impact on the defense has been non-existent over the past 1-2 months.

DEFENSIVE LINE

-Maybe the two biggest winners of the blowout margin were Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams. They played just 67% and 53% of the snaps respectively. Keeping these guys fresh and healthy is absolutely vital. The lower-than-normal snap share did not result in a lack of impact. Lawrence strengthened his All-Pro candidacy with 5 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 pressures. His sack came on an island against Quenton Nelson, the best guard in football. No double moves. No fancy hand-work. He simply bull-rushed Nelson 4-5 yards backward and finished the play. Even though Nelson has taken a step back in 2022, I still think he is the stoutest pass protector against the bull rush in the league. Lawrence tossed him around. Williams added 2 tackles and 2 pressures.

-The trio of rotational linemen, Ryder Anderson-Justin Ellis-Henry Mondeaux, seems to be set in stone. Expectation for these guys is not high, but I will reiterate the importance of Lawrence and Williams being on the field for 85+ snaps in the playoffs. The other guys are solid space eaters, but not much else. After making a few plays in the backfield in consecutive weeks, the undrafted rookie Anderson was completely ineffective and moved off his point easily.

LINEBACKER

-Nice bounce back game for Jaylon Smith. Someone must have gotten into his ear about attacking his gaps downhill faster. He led the team with 9 tackles and added 2 pressures. He missed 1 tackle. Rookie Micah McFadden added 4 tackles, one of which was on special teams. He dropped back into coverage just 6 times, the lowest number we have seen since Week 8 at Seattle. Even though NYG cannot control that fully, it is a smart move to keep him out of that role as much as possible.

-Landon Collins, you’re up. He dropped into coverage 20 times and saw 30+ snaps for the second week in a row. He contributed 4 tackles and the biggest play of the game. He intercepted a Nick Foles pass in the second quarter just five plays after NYG went up 14-3. The play itself was impressive, but the timing is what put this game out of reach for IND. Sure, it was still early and “you never know.” But I thought this game was sealed after this play against a team that hasn’t won since November 13 and has scored over 21 offensive points just one time since October 16. Collins is another in-season find who deserves a ton of credit. His role in this defense is ideal and I’ll tell you what, this guy can still move. There is still some high-risk / high reward to him, but that sums up the defense as a whole. Collins is going to be a very important player against whomever NYG plays in two weeks.

CORNERBACK

-Darnay Holmes now ranks second in NFL in penalties. He was flagged for a hold on a 3rd-down stop in the first quarter. These are the kinds of plays that overshadow the fact that he is a solid player. He added 3 tackles and 1 TFL. He did a great job at limiting yards after the catch. He is one of the top pure athletes on this defense. But teams know in high-leverage situations, he is the one to attack. He can be a maddening player to work with but then again, there isn’t much to do about it. Nobody behind him brings the talent to the table he does.

-Fabian Moreau and Nick McCloud continued to fill most of the meaningful snaps on the outside. Moreau allowed a touchdown after losing his balance and falling to the ground. It was his third touchdown allowed over the last 5 games. He has been given, by far, the most difficult coverage assignments on this team. While he won’t ever be mistaken for Champ Bailey, I like what his coverage looks like from the All-22. Not the most athletic cover man, but he anticipates and knows what’s often coming. I like that about him.

-Nick McCloud added 2 tackles, some physical play, and a pass break up. Another guy who is simply showing great anticipation in coverage. Zyon Gilbert saw some action late in mop up duty. He is still learning route combos and footwork techniques. Not much to report here, though. Cor’Dale Flott played a lot (35 snaps) but was not targeted and didn’t make any plays against the run. Quiet day, but not a bad day.

SAFETY

-Xavier McKinney was a surprise activation for this game. He badly injured his hand during the bye week in early November and hasn’t played since. He played 83% of the snaps and because of the nature of his injury and recovery, I believe it is important to get him on the field as much as possible including next week against PHI. Get the rust out. He added 7 tackles and a pass break-up. He did get beat early on a jump ball against Paris Campbell. Overall, he was in the right position, moved well, and tackled well. The defense is better with him on the field.

-Julian Love finished with 4 tackles and 1 missed tackle. Otherwise, uneventful game for him, but he did cover well deep. His alignments have been all over the place and it is a valuable weapon for the defense. Getting McKinney back and up to speed should make that even more unpredictable for the opposing offense.

-Tony Jefferson and Jason Pinnock saw most of their playing time late in the game when it was out of reach.

SPECIAL TEAMS

-K Graham Gano: 1/1 (Made 36)
-P Jamie Gillan: 1 punt / 47 yards – 27 net

3 STUDS

-QB Daniel Jones, WR Richie James, LB Landon Collins

3 DUDS

-WR Darius Slayton, CB Darnay Holmes, EDGE Oshane Ximines

3 THOUGHTS ON IND

1. The team I was most wrong about when looking at my preseason predictions? The Colts. The team I was probably second or third most wrong about? The Giants. I said IND would get to 13 wins, NYG would finish at 6 wins. Man, I could not have been more wrong. What happened here with IND? I don’t blame the coaching (Reich is going to get hired again). The former general manager did a fine job with his draft picks. But how they handled quarterback once Andrew Luck surprisingly retired could not have been worse. Philip Rivers in his final year. A trade for Carson Wentz. A trade for Matt Ryan. A 1st-round pick, two 3rd-round picks, and just under $90 million over the course of three seasons was the overall price for what IND spent at the position. A major mishandle of the most important position in the game. While we can point to a few different components as well, this was the downfall of IND. They will be picking top 7 this April and it is time they go that route for their signal caller.

2. I am working on a Free Agent List to put out there in February. It is for use wider than just NYG followers, but if I have time, I will create a custom portion of it for you guys like how I do the draft prospects. Two of the top 20 guys play for IND and positions NYG will be looking at. In 2019, I had Bobby Okereke as a borderline 1st-2nd rounder (he was drafted toward the end of round 3). He has been a consistent run defender with speed and range, but there are questions about him in coverage. I’m not so sure NYG will be pursuing a high-priced linebacker, but if they do want to throw some money into the ring, he would be a nice option considering what Martindale wants from that spot. The other is a receiver who did not play because of a concussion. Ashton Dulin was the guy I wanted NYG to use a 7th round pick on in 2019. He started off as a key gunner on special teams but has been making plays in limited looks in the passing game his entire career. 6’1/215 with plus size and speed, Dulin will come with a cheap price tag and give the team a credible deep threat they lack. Think Darius Slayton but more physical, versatile, and with better hands. Keep an eye out for those two.

3. Who ends up coaching IND? I’m sure they will make the rounds in interviews. The hottest name is going to be Sean Payton but remember, you need to trade for him if you want him on the sidelines in 2023. I think they’re opening the door and wallet for another big name. Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh. Bruce Feldman, a journalist I know and trust fully, is fairly confident he will come back to the NFL for the right job. I only see Harbaugh coming back for a job to a historic franchise. IND fits that bill and Jim played for them in the 1990s. My one question is whether or not he wants to be a part of the rebuild for a team. The Niners had a solid core of talent in 2011 when Harbaugh went there and they had a quarterback (Alex Smith). Does Harbaugh want a higher starting point? Or would he want to pick his own new quarterback (Will Levis?) to mold and develop?

3 CLOSING THOUGHTS

1. It looks like NYG will play MIN again in the opening round of the playoffs. Despite it being a road game, it is the best possible match-up for them. We will get more into that next week, but this lined up very well. There is a scenario where they end up going to SF, but that will require ARI winning a game against the Niners. I don’t see it. They’re on quarterback number four and they’re shutting some of their players down already. By the way, MIN just lost their top offensive lineman, right tackle Brian O’Neill, to a calf injury. They are already without starting center Garrett Bradbury (although he may back for playoffs). We saw this is a very beatable team and remember, they are -19 in point differential right now. That ranks 20th in the NFL. NYG is flat in differential (0), which ranks 14th.

2. How should NYG approach resting players in week 18 against PHI? It is ironic that PHI needs to play everyone to ensure they win and gain the bye + Home Field advantage while NYG cannot gain or lose anything with a win or loss. While I am a firm believer in keeping guys on routines and continuing the momentum-build, there are a few players I would like to see in sweatpants next Sunday. Anyone questionable or with a list of nagging injuries, you’re out. And if there are inactive spots left to use, I put the key players who are likely in for a huge workload in the playoffs on the sideline. Barkley, Lawrence, Ojulari, and Williams should be kept off of the field. Then, I would limit the snaps of guys where the depth just isn’t there. Hodgins, James, Bellinger, Thomas, and most importantly Jones. Let this be a high-snap game for the likes of Ryder Anderson, Tomon Fox, Henry Mondeaux, Justin Ellis, Oshane Ximines, Tyrod Taylor, Kenny Golladay, Nick Vannett, Matt Peart, and Dane Belton.

3. What do you do with Adoree’ Jackson if he is ready to play? Sounds like he was close this past week to getting on the field. Is he experienced enough to simply just be kept on the sidelines and throw him back into the fire against MIN? He is vital to the gameplan against that passing game. I feel Xavier McKinney needs more snaps to get the feel back and I am less concerned with re-injury / soft tissue with him. This is a tough call, but I think we should see Jackson on the field (if fully ready) for 15-20 snaps. Let him get a feel. Let him make a hit or two. Let the confidence build. But let’s maybe keep him away from returning punts this time!