While it is usually unwise to make too much of a victory or defeat, certain games can change the arc of an NFL season. Without the advantage of future hindsight, at this particular moment in time, the upset win over the Green Bay Packers in London appears to have changed the multiple narratives and expected outcomes for the New York Football Giants. The Giants may be rebuilding, but through five games, they are very much in the playoff hunt. And some offseason personnel decisions – starting at quarterback – just got a little more cloudy.
In last week’s game preview, I talked about expectations when the 2022 NYG schedule was released. The clearly rebuilding Giants were supposed to lose to the defending #1 seed in the AFC Tennessee Titans. The Giants were supposed to lose to the defending #1 seed in the NFC Green Bay Packers. By the end of Week 5, the best the Giants could hope for was a 2-3 record. Yet here we are at 4-1, one game out of first place in the reinvigorated NFC East.
Just as significantly, there has been nothing fluky about the four wins. There haven’t been strange plays or timely turnovers that have pundits and fans claiming a clearly outplayed Giants team was “lucky” to win. Quite the contrary, the Giants are winning DESPITE a lack of a clear advantage in turnovers. They are winning despite being undermanned with a plethora of injuries to some of their best players. They are winning despite trailing their opponents in the second half in three of their four wins. They are not giving up; they are a resilient bunch.
Of course, all of this can change in a heartbeat. All glory is fleeting. Two or three losses and we’re back to the old expectations and narratives. Given the state of the roster, the margin for error is small. Every game has been close and most have been nail-biters. Can they keep this up? Enter the AFC North-leading Baltimore Ravens, another team the Giants were supposed to lose to when the schedule was released. Can New York do it again? If they can, then things start to get REALLY interesting.
THE INJURY REPORT:
- QB Tyrod Taylor (concussion – probable)
- RB Saquon Barkley (shoulder – probable)
- WR Kenny Golladay (knee – out)
- WR Wan’Dale Robinson (knee – questionable)
- WR Kadarius Toney (hamstring – out)
- TE/FB Chris Myarick (ankle – probable)
- TE Tanner Hudson (illness – questionable)
- DL Leonard Williams (knee – questionable)
- OLB Azeez Ojulari (calf – doubtful)
- CB Adoree’ Jackson (knee/neck – probable)
- CB Darnay Holmes (quad – probable)
- CB Cor’Dale Flott (calf – out)
- S Tony Jefferson (foot – out)
- S Jason Pinnock (ankle – out)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
In a recent radio interview, I was asked what has been the #1 discussion on the website. I replied that for months, it has been the endless debate over Daniel Jones. I also said that most fans appeared to have dug their heels in and already made up their minds one way or the other, which in itself put Jones in a tough spot from PR perspective.
Let’s try to look at this as objectively as possible. Entering the 2022 NFL season, Jones was a 12-25 quarterback through three seasons. This year, he is 4-1. In other words, he’s already reached his seasonal victory average. He only has three turnovers (two interceptions and one fumble). Two were legit (the interception and the fumble in the season opener). The other interception came against the Cowboys when his receiver fell down at the end of the game. In other words, since the opener, he hasn’t been turning the ball over. On the flip side, passing touchdowns since his rookie season (24) remain elusive. He has only thrown three, and none since Week 2.
In New York’s signature win thus far, Jones did not throw or run for a score. He did throw for a season-high 217 yards, but that number is pedestrian at best. HOWEVER, Jones did two big things in this game: (1) he started to win over some hearts and minds with his gritty toughness, and (2) with no margin for error, he made key throws and runs on the game-tying, 91-yard drive that required eight first downs. As Sy’56 pointed out, he raised the play of those around him. One game does not make a trend, but this is the type of performance Jones needs if he is to remain a New York Giant.
Why am I spending so much time on Jones in a preview that should be focusing on the Giants-Ravens match-ups? Because the outstanding, major questions for the Giants are bigger than individual games. We all feel it. The Green Bay game is the first real indication that Jones may return in 2023 and beyond. That could be bad. Or it could be great. The bad is obvious. What if Mara, Schoen, and Daboll decide they can win with Jones moving forward, re-sign him to a huge, multi-year contract, and then he massively disappoints in 2023 and 2024? On the other hand, what if the Giants DO have their franchise quarterback already on the roster? What if Daboll and staff were able resurrect Jones from the dead? The timeline of the “rebuild” instantly changes for the better. As I’ve stated previously, that also directly impacts the fate of Saquon Barkley since Barkley’s next few years would not be “wasted” on a newly-drafted quarterback. This what I mean by multiple narratives possibly changing. Things are much more in flux now.
Now to complicate this further, as Go Terps correctly pointed out in The Forum this week, we really do not know what Daboll wants to do at quarterback. The strength of this coaching staff has been its ability to adjust and work with what it has. But despite winning with Jones, Daboll simply may want to upgrade the position so he be more of a pass-first team like he was in Buffalo. The argument here is Jones simply isn’t a difference-maker at the position in the passing game and he is injury-prone.
Enter the Baltimore Ravens. Defensively, they are having an extremely odd season. They are currently 28th in defense (12th against the run, 32nd against the pass, 18th in scoring defense). What’s so strange is that cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey are legit Pro Bowlers. The Ravens imploded in a 28-point meltdown against the Miami Dolphins in Week 2. But they also did a nice job in a 23-20 loss to the explosive Buffalo Bills two weeks ago and a 19-17 win over the defending AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday night. Significantly, they are tied for an NFL high 11 takeaways with eight interceptions and three fumble recoveries. The Ravens can also rush the passer. Recently signed, ex-Giant Jason Pierre-Paul was causing problems for the Bengals. Odafe Oweh leads the team with 17 quarterback pressures despite only one sack.
So on the surface, it would appear the weakness of the Ravens is their dead-last pass defense, provided you can avoid throwing interceptions. See where I’m going with this? Despite their 28th-ranked defense, the Ravens are playing better in recent weeks and have enough talent to make life difficult for a Giants’ offense that is 31st in passing, averaging a paltry 154 yards per game. Now that’s not all on Jones. The pass protection has been too up-and-down. The Giants have the worst wide receiving corps in the NFL. But there are glimpses of hope. Daniel Bellinger is becoming a factor. Darius Slayton arose from the dead for at least one week. Wan’Dale Robinson returns. The Ravens are going to concentrate on Barkley. Why wouldn’t they? Jones is going to be on the spot. Can he move this team with his arm, while at the same time avoiding the turnover? To me, that’s the offensive storyline of this game. But it’s also bigger than that. Can Jones make another argument to keep him on this roster? Stay tuned.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
This is an interesting match-up because of Wink Martindale’s long relationship with the Harbaugh family, including his 10-year stay in Baltimore with the Ravens. He knows their strength and weaknesses. But Harbaugh also knows Wink. The chess match will be fascinating to watch.
The bad news is the Giants can’t seem to get all of their defensive toys on the field at the same time. Injury issues at all three levels of the defense have been a problem all season, including the team’s best defensive players. Despite that, this defense keeps plugging along when it should be getting torched. The good news is that the Giants should be getting back arguably their best defensive player, Leonard Williams. That’s exciting to contemplate when you consider how well Dexter Lawrence is playing. The two of them, combined with edge rushers Kayvon Thibodeaux and possibly Azeez Ojulari (who will likely miss this game), should start to become a real problem for opposing offenses. Xavier McKinney and Julian Love are one of the best safety duos in the league. The Giants just have to pray that Adoree’ Jackson (knee/neck) can hold up and continue his strong season. They also need the no-name, cast-off corners to continue to hold down the opposite outside spot. Which version of Darnay Holmes we get is a bit nerve-wracking too. Thus far, the Tae Crowder-Jaylon Smith combo at inside linebacker appears to be an improvement. Let’s see if that continues.
So what are the challenges this week? The Ravens are 14th in offense (7th in rushing, 22nd in passing). But they are 4th in scoring, averaging almost four touchdowns per game. Much depends on which version of Lamar Jackson you get. At times, he is very much the MVP candidate on his resume, making incredible throws and brilliant runs. He’s a son-of-a-bitch to tackle. At other times, he can’t hit the broad side of a barn. Jackson has thrown 12 touchdowns (four times as many as the Giants) and five interceptions. He’s completing 64 percent of his passes and has rushed for 374 yards (7.6 yards per run).
The strategy is obvious, but difficult to implement. When you rush Jackson, you have to maintain disciplined rush lanes. You can’t freelance. This makes it easier for pass blockers because they understand what the rushers need to do, but it’s critical because if you give Jackson a lane, he will beat you with his feet. On top of that, just because you reach Jackson, it doesn’t mean the play is over. You have to bring him down. He’s one of those guys where you say, “Yeah, we got him! Oh (crap), get him!”
If you look at Baltimore’s team stats, you come away with the impression that Jackson is their running game since he leads the team by a wide margin. That’s not exactly true. The Ravens run out of a ton of different formations, using a number of different players, to generate the league’s 7th-ranked rushing attack. It’s almost like watching a college team that confuses its opponent with multiple looks and motion. On Sunday night, they attacked the edges of Cincinnati’s defense with great success, using jet sweeps by wideout Devin Duvernay. They have a trio of running backs tote the rock, including J.K. Dobbins, Justice Hill (not expected to play), and Kenyan Drake.
Smartly, when Baltimore does pass, they use play-action as teams are so geared up to defend the run. And like most strong running teams, they usually score touchdowns when they get into the red zone. They have only three rushing touchdowns, but their strong running game sets up the play-action and helps explain the 12 passing touchdowns. In addition, oddly, Jackson has been really good when blitzed this year.
Jackson’s favorite target is tight end Mark Andrews, who by far is leading the team in targets (46) and receptions (32). He also has a team-leading four touchdowns. The most dangerous target is Duvernay. While he only has 17 receptions, Duvernay averages 22 yards per catch. The good news for the Giants is Rashod Bateman will likely miss another game due to a foot injury.
This is where “smart, tough, and dependable” will be really tested on defense. The Giants are going to have diagnose the complicated running schemes, stand tough at the point-of-attack, and make sure tackles. The entire basis of the Baltimore attack is based on their ground game, including the success of the passing game. You can’t totally shut down their running game, but you have to limit the damage. Get Jackson into 3rd-and-long situations where he is very uncomfortable. The Giants are long overdue for some interceptions.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Unlike the 2020-2021 Giants, the Ravens hired a former special teams coach who actually improved their special teams. This is going to be a tough match-up for New York. Duvernay has only returned five kickoffs, but one of those was for 103 yards. He’a also averaging over 13 yards per punt return. He’s extremely dangerous. The Ravens also have one of the game’s best kickers in Justin Tucker, who has been perfect on the year, with half of his field goals being 50+ yards including a 58-yarder. On the flip side, while Gary Brightwell has been a nice role player for the Giants on offense and in special teams coverage, he’s not getting it done as a kick returner.
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Offensive Coordinator Mike Kafka on the Baltimore Ravens’ defense: “They have really good players in the backend, really good players in the front seven as well. They generate pressure, they create pressure up front, and they have ball hawks in the back end that do a good job of tackling the football, stripping and punching at the ball. Those are points of emphasis for us this week.”
THE FINAL WORD:
If the Giants lose this game, it’s not the end of the world. The outcome of the Green Bay game gave them some wiggle room. However, if they can somehow pull off their third big upset in six games, the arc of this season really begins to take a different shape. I don’t expect them to win, but I’m not counting this team out against any team remaining on their schedule. They aren’t in the same class as Buffalo and Kansas City, but so what? The best news coming out of this season is the team clearly has arguably one of the best coaching staffs in the League.
I will just throw this out there. Jackson and Jones are 22nd and 23rd in pass attempts in the NFL this season. Both of these teams prefer not to throw the football all that much. The Ravens have 11 interceptions on defense. The Giants have none. Avoiding the turnover will be huge for the Giants in this game. On the other hand, an aggressive NYG defense is long overdue for some picks.
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