When the 2022 New York Giants schedule was first released in May, the November 13th game against the Houston Texans was one of the few games Giants fans pegged a possible win. Fast forward to November 11th, and the Giants are standing at 6-2 and are only one of five teams with a winning record in the NFC. As the first game in the post-bye sprint to the finish, this game has taken on far more importance than originally anticipated.
The upstart, overachieving Giants have three different post-bye paths:
- They can completely collapse with the clock striking midnight and finish with a losing record.
- They can continue to win the inevitably close games in the 4th quarter and finish with a surprisingly good post-bye winning record.
- They can play near .500 football and finish with 10 or 11 wins.
In reading commentary from the fan base, I think most assume option #3 is the most likely scenario. Consciously or subconsciously, most NYG fans realize this team is playing over its head. As long as there isn’t a complete collapse, I think most will be happy with this season. After all, after three straight failures, the Giants finally found themselves a quality coaching staff. The season didn’t end in October. We have something to look forward to in November, December, and early January. While the team has its warts, it’s fun to root for.
The short- and medium-term issues for the Giants are talent related. The bye came at the right time, but key players such as Evan Neal, Daniel Bellinger, and Azeez Ojulari are still out. Plus there is something in the water at the Meadowlands that causes Giants to do stupid things on break – see Plaxico Burress, Jason Pierre-Paul, and now Xavier McKinney. (Side note to current and future Giants, don’t go sky-diving during a bye week). My point here is an overachieving team can ill-afford to lose good players. McKinney will be missed as Neal, Bellinger, and Ojulari are being missed. We’re all thinking it… just get by the Texans and Detroit Lions and get these players back soon.
Don’t take the Texans (or any team) lightly. The Giants have been winning close games because they are making fewer mistakes than their opponents. Against Seattle, the Giants made the mistakes and we saw the outcome. Get back to the winning formula.
THE INJURY REPORT:
- WR Kenny Golladay (knee – questionable)
- WR Marcus Johnson (thumb – probable)
- WR Richie James (concussion – probable)
- TE Daniel Bellinger (eye – out)
- RT Evan Neal (knee – out)
- OLB Oshane Ximines (quad – questionable)
- CB Cor’Dale Flott (calf – questionable)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The same problem remains for the Giants: they are severely limited by arguably the worst receiving corps in the NFL. It’s so bad that the Giants are trying to upgrade with players signed off of practice squads or cut by other teams, Marcus Johnson and Isaiah Hodgins being the latest examples. This is a receiving corps that can’t get open, and when they do, they struggle to catch the ball. So it’s impossible to take any fan commentary seriously that suggests Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka are holding the team back because they “won’t open up the offense.”
The best the the offense has looked has been when Daniel Bellinger and Wan’Dale Robinson were on the field together. Combine them with Saquon Barkley and the Giants had just enough to at least present some problems for opposing defenses. We all learned against Seattle that losing the tight end made a huge difference in both the running and passing game. Bellinger will not play against the Texans so the problems remain. Someone else has to step up. The Giants can’t just “coach” themselves out of this mess.
The obvious guy to help here is Kenny Golladay, the $72 million man who astonishingly has yet to catch a touchdown in a Giants uniform. As a Detroit Lion, Golladay caught 183 passes for 3,068 yards and 21 touchdowns in four seasons. As a Giant, he has 39 catches for 543 yards and no touchdowns in two seasons. New York needs him more now than ever. They don’t even need the Pro Bowl version of him; they just need him to be an average NFL starter. Is that asking too much for $72 million?
The other guy who remains in the spotlight is Darius Slayton. He has three games this year where he has caught more than one pass. The Giants need more of that plus they need him to get into the end zone more than his one touchdown. Marcus Johnson was handed a golden opportunity to resurrect his career here and thus far he has failed miserably. Richie James has faded not only as a punt returner, but as a target. David Sills has started five games and only has 11 catches. That leaves Wan’Dale Robinson and newcomer Isaiah Hodgins. The hope (and prayer) is that Golladay and Slayton can provide just enough of an outside threat for Robinson and Barkley to do damage underneath. And perhaps Hodgins can get caught up to speed quickly to make Johnson, Sills, and James irrelevant. Can they do just enough until Bellinger gets back? (Side note: unbelievably, the leading receiver on this team in terms of receptions at 28).
The other issue was the loss of Bellinger in the ground game. Tanner Hudson and Chris Myarick just are not point-of-attack, in-line blockers. They are easily controlled at the edge. That hurts the ground game. Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka are going to need to adjust again so plays don’t fail because of these two. That’s not easy since the Giants are not in position yet to spread things out and throw it. This is why some savvy fans recognized that tight end was just as much of a need as wide receiver before the trade deadline.
What about the Texans? Well coached with long-time defensive guru Lovie Smith at the helm as head coach. However, they are 30th in yards allowed; better in points allowed at 19th. The key stat? Dead last in defending the run, allowing over 180 yards per game (and over 5 yards per rushing attempt). You don’t need me to tell you what the game plan should be.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
We’re seeing a fascinating trend in the NFL this year. As NFL defenses became more sophisticated in their attempts to stop high-flying passing attacks, many teams have adjusted and are running the ball more. And they are doing so with great success. Don “Wink” Martindale’s defenses in Baltimore were always very strong against the run, including the injury-plagued defensive squad that finished 25th in 2021 (but 1st against the run). Surprisingly, even with Fabian Moreau and other waiver-wire pick ups playing significant time in the secondary, as well as the top NYG pass rushers missing significant time, it has been the Giants’ pass defense that has played better. The Giants are 16th against the pass (208 yards per game) and 25th against the run (137 yards per game).
Martindale came to New York with the reputation of not being a bend-but-don’t-break defensive coordinator, but that is exactly what his defense is doing. The Giants are giving up yards, but remain a top-10 defense in points allowed (currently 9th).
The immediate challenge is patching up a secondary that will now be without arguably its top player in Xavier McKinney for at least four games and possibly more. McKinney doesn’t have a lot of flashy plays this year, but his speed, range, and instincts will be missed. Expect more deep passing attempts and completions. The guys who will replace him are not as speedy or athletic in space. I would expect Julian Love to play more deep safety now with rookie Dane Belton and veterans Jason Pinnock and Landon Collins seeing more action near the line of scrimmage. What should help them is a pass rush that should get healthier in the second half with Leonard Williams and Kayvon Thibodeaux being near full strength. Oshane Ximines is set to return too. Now if the team could only get Azeez Ojulari on the field!
The other potential fly in the ointment is the under-the-radar, season-ending loss of reserve Nick Williams. The Giants are down to only three defensive linemen on the 53-man roster. Dexter Lawrence has been playing far too many snaps per game. Same with Leonard Williams when healthy. Henry Mondeaux and Ryder Anderson remain on the Practice Squad, and one or both will likely be called up, but the drop in quality is very noticeable. The Giants badly need to address DL depth this offseason.
This brings us to the Texans: 30th in yards, 28th in points. They are 26th in passing (Giants are 29th by the way) and 25th in rushing (Giants are 4th). However, rookie running back Dameon Pierce is in contention for “rookie of the year” honors. He has rushed for almost 700 yards and is averaging over 4.5 yards per carry. Pierce can run over you, around you, and break long runs (he has a 75 yarder this year). He is one of the NFL’s top backs in breaking tackles and is running behind an offensive line with some good talent. He has fumbled twice.
In addition, wide outs Brandin Cooks and Nico Collins can hurt you. Both can make plays down the field. 2021 3rd-round quarterback Davis Mills has been adept at getting the ball out quickly, but he has also thrown 18 interceptions in one and a half seasons. The Giants only have one pick this season. The law of averages favors New York.
Game plan is fairly obvious. Wink has to get his defensive unit to play the run better than it has. Control Pierce as much as possible and force Mills to beat you. Do not let Cooks or Collins beat you for the cheap score. Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams should present problems for Houston’s interior line.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
To be blunt, New York’s special teams lost them a game two weeks ago. Who returns the ball moving forward will be interesting to watch. Obviously ball security must be the #1 priority.
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Offensive Coordinator Mike Kafka on the Giants self-scouting over the bye week: “There was some good stuff that we looked at as a staff. Really took some good time and evaluated first, second down, third down, red zone. Just really went piece by piece on personnel groupings, the players, putting those guys in the spots – that they were in the right spots. I think we came out with some good information and stuff that we can apply moving forward… We’ve had some new players come in so we’re constantly evaluating how those guys play and what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are and then also tying that into what we see from a defensive standpoint. That’s been the key, that’s what we spend a ton of time on every single day.”
THE FINAL WORD:
McKinney being out on defense and Bellinger being out on offense makes this game dicer than I would like. But this is a game the Giants should win. Don’t expect it to be easy however. The 2022 New York Giants are not for the faint of heart. I suspect Corner Forum game threads to remain a mess.
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