It’s usually unwise to make bold proclamations after a small sample size. After all, New York Giants fans were feeling pretty good about Dan Reeves during the 1993 season and Jim Fassel during the 1997 season. And views about those two coaches changed radically in subsequent years. On the flip side, fans were ready to run Bill Parcells out of New Jersey after 1983 and Tom Coughlin after his third season in 2006. Nevertheless, I came to the conclusion this week that there is some very Belichick-ian about Brian Daboll.
For years, I have envied the way that Bill Belichick was able to import ordinary players, immediately get them up to speed in a new system, and have them become not-so-insignificant contributors to a winning program. Not only did the Giants make sweeping roster changes in the offseason, but since the end of August, they have picked up the following players off of the street, waiver wire, or other teams’ practice squads: Jason Pinnock, Jack Anderson, Henry Mondeaux, Tyre Phillips, Jaylon Smith, Fabian Moreau, Landon Collins, Tony Jefferson, Lawrence Cager, Marcus Johnson, Isaiah Hodgins, Terrell Burgess, and Vernon Butler. Fast forward to last week’s game, and Pinnock, Mondeaux, Phillips, Smith, Moreau, Cager, and Hodgins all were factors in the victory. That’s SEVEN players. Astounding.
59-year old Don “Wink” Martindale, who has coached in the NFL since 2004, said on Thursday, “I’ve never seen a roster move around the way this roster moved around with injuries and things like that.”
Combine that with the way this coaching staff has adjusted to the strengths and weaknesses of this roster. All coaches talk about doing this, but few actually do it. Last Sunday, the Giants employed formations with eight offensive linemen on the field. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that before. But it seems like something like Belichick would do if his roster was configured the same way.
Winning in the NFL is about acquiring talent. But it’s also about how you manage the talent you have. Few teams have security at head coach. It’s why we see so many coaches fired each offseason and why the Giants have fired four coaches in six years. Regardless of how this team finishes this season, it appears the Giants may have the head coaching position finally figured out again.
The 2022 New York Giants are a team living on the edge. They don’t have the pass catchers to score a lot of points. Every contest has been (and will be) a nail-biter decided in the 4th quarter. That formula usually is not conducive to sustained winning because the law of averages usually catches up with you. Thus far, that has only happened twice for the Giants. I keep expecting the other shoe to drop, but the Giants keep winning. That said, my instincts still tell me that every opponent is certainly capable of embarrassing the Giants. And that includes the Detroit Lions. Don’t sleep on the Lions. They are better than their record indicates.
THE INJURY REPORT:
- WR Wan’Dale Robinson (hamstring – questionable)
- WR Kenny Golladay (hamstring – questionable)
- TE Daniel Bellinger (eye – out)
- RT Evan Neal (knee – doubtful)
- OG Josh Ezeudu (neck – questionable)
- DL Dexter Lawrence (back – questionable)
- OLB Kayvon Thibodeaux (illness – probable)
- OLB Jihad Ward (thumb – probable)
- S Dane Belton (clavicle – questionable)
- PK Graham Gano (illness – probable)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka came from pass-happy systems. It’s extremely likely that their long-term vision for the Giants is a team that can throw the ball 35-40 times per game if necessary and doing so at an elite level. The drafting of Wan’Dale Robinson supports that conclusion. Nevertheless, both coaches recognized the limitations of the current personnel and massively altered their approach, turning the Giants into a run-first team.
The Giants have played nine games. In six of those games (all wins), they have run the ball more than they have thrown it. In both of their losses, they have thrown the ball more than they have run it. The reasons for this vary and often can’t be rationally discussed by fans who have formed intransigent views on the quarterback, running back, receivers, and blockers. But the reality is the coaching staff has come to the conclusion that it is better to play more conservatively on offense, and the W-L record based on the run/pass ratio seems to support that position. Points come out of the passing game. And they come out of big-chunk plays in the passing game. But the Giants are not currently built for that approach. If the Giants attempt to veer too much away from their current formula, the team is likely to see more three-and-outs, penalties, sacks, and worst of all, turnovers.
Which brings us to another stat that is not receiving enough attention: the Giants’ offense has lowest turnover rate in league. Only 5.3 percent of their possessions have ended with a turnover. Daniel Jones has thrown only two interceptions (and none since Week 3 against Dallas when his intended receiver fell down on a pick). And the Giants only have five lost fumbles, three of which were by Richie James on punt returns. It’s no coincidence that Giants’ turnovers were an issue in both of their losses. When the Giants don’t turn the football over, they probably are going to win the football game.
So fans yelling at the top of their lungs that Daboll and Kafka are being too conservative and need to open it up more are completely missing the point. They don’t understand the team’s limitations and why they are winning. You can try telling them, but they don’t want to listen. Same thing with any pre-game predictions that the Giants are going to score 30+ points. Unless the defense and special teams score, they aren’t going to do that this year.
The Giants’ formula, which they are pretty much wed to until the roster improves in the offseason, is based on playing it safe and not making mistakes. The Giants are not beating themselves with penalties and turnovers, but they are also not scoring a lot of points. The red-zone defense has kept them in contests and the Daboll/Kafka commitment to the ground game has paid off dividends in the 4th quarter of close games. The 2-yard run in the 1st quarter becomes the 14-yard run in the 4th quarter. It’s why so many of New York’s 4th-quarter comebacks have come not only on the right arm of Daniel Jones, but his legs and the legs of Saquon Barkley.
Enter the Detroit Lions and a larger danger than their 3-6 record suggests. The Lions are not only 6th overall in offense, but 9th in scoring. They average over 24 points per game and have scored more than 30 points in four games (35, 36, 45, and 31). The Giants simply cannot match those numbers. So not only does the offensive braintrust have to pray that Wink’s defense can hold the Lions to field goals, but the offense has to play keep-away by putting together long, clock-eating drives that hopefully result in at least 2-3 touchdowns.
The good news is that Detroit’s defense is dead last in yards allowed (416 yards per game) and points allowed (over 29 per game). The Lions also are not good on 3rd down and in red-zone defense. The Giants were able to employ a heavy run-first strategy against Houston’s 32nd-ranked run defense. Don’t expect a big change as Detroit is 31st against the run. However, Daboll and Kafka may rightfully be more concerned about the Lions scoring more points than the Texans against the New York defense. If so, I would not be shocked to see more play-action in the first half of this game than we are accustomed to. Much depends on the weather (it may be very windy) and the health of the receivers (see above injury list).
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The loss of Xavier McKinney had a big, domino effect on the defense last week. A unit that largely kept Houston under wraps in the first half had trouble stopping 29th-ranked offense in the second half. McKinney was missed in coverage and as a tackler. His absence most likely will be noticed even more this week against the NFL’s 6th-ranked offense (8th passing, 10th running). Note the balance. Detroit can hurt you with run and the pass. And they are one of the top teams in the NFL in big plays, getting huge chunks of yardage (again, big plays are the key to point generation in the NFL). Not having McKinney in there for this game scares the heck out of me.
What makes Detroit so good on offense? First of all, they have one of the NFL’s best offensive lines. They are solid or better across the board, especially if their starting center plays this week as he is now expected to. Unbelievably, quarterback Jared Goff is only behind Patrick Mahomes in 20+ yard completions this year. WR Amon-Ra St. Brown is on pace for a near 100-catch season and is Goff’s go-to guy. Goff will also throw to wide receivers Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond, and running back D’Andre Swift. As for the ground game, it’s a 1-2 punch with Jamaal Williams being more of the workhorse and Swift being the more explosive, change of pace. This is a balanced, well-coached unit that has surprisingly performed well against quality teams.
Detroit’s big plays don’t come out of a reliance on the deep passing game but yards-after-the-catch (YAC) and big runs by their backs. When facing offenses like that, tackling become priority #1. Martindale and his staff will be preaching limiting the big play through gang-tackling. What is going to be tough is the play-action game. Because the Giants need to respect Detroit’s running game, the linebackers will be more vulnerable to run fakes, leaving gaps over the middle of the defense. This is exacerbated with the loss of McKinney with his instincts and range missing.
The match-ups I’m most curious to watch are up front. Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence are playing as well as any defensive linemen in the league. But the excessively high number of snaps is beginning to take a toll on Lawrence, who was limited this week with a back injury. These two also face one of the better OLs in the NFL. The Giants need Williams and Lawrence to be at their best along with Kavyon Thibodeaux making his presence felt. Detroit will likely target Dane Belton and/or Jason Pinnock in coverage. They will also have Swift test the linebackers in coverage.
I firmly believe this game is going to come down to red-zone offense and defense for both teams. Detroit is going to move the ball. But the Giants need to keep them from reaching the end zone in order to keep the game close.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Daboll and Special Teams Coordinator Thomas McGaughey have highlighted Detroit’s tendency so surprise opponents on special teams. “(Head Coach) Dan (Campbell) is real aggressive,” said McGaughey. “And at any point in time, you can get a surprise onside kick. You could get a fake punt. So, we’ll work on that stuff this week, and we got to stay ready for it.”
Punter Jamie Gillan is going through a rough stretch and needs to rebound. The Giants’ punt return game remains uneasily unsettled. McGaughey seemed to indicate a continuation of the Adoree’ Jackson/Richie James split. Neither seems like a good answer.
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Brian Daboll on the Detroit Lions: “They create explosive plays. (Jared) Goff plays at a high level; he’s a very accurate passer downfield, intermediate, off the play action. And then their two runners have taken it to the distance a few times. They’re both a little bit different but both very good. They’ve scored 30 points four times. In six of their losses, four of them have been four points or less. The other one against the Cowboys it was 10-6 with 3:20 left. Explosive team. Good football team… Look, they create explosive plays. The other thing they’re really good at is down in the red zone, finishing drives… We’re going to have to do a good job of trying to slow them down and make sure we’re tackling and not giving up 50-yard runs that they break through, taking care of the deep part of the field and things like that on defense. Offensively, do our job in terms of executing and trying to go down and score points and then create field position in the kicking game – another good team. Dan (Campbell) has run a variety of fakes since he’s been there: onside kicks, surprise onside kicks, fake punts.”
THE FINAL WORD:
This is an important game for the Giants, especially with the upcoming short week before Dallas on Thanksgiving. This is a contest where the weather and fans could really work in the Giants’ favor if the wind does pick up and the fans remain loud. You already know my thoughts on the keys… turnovers, red-zone offense, red-zone defense. Both of these teams have played an inordinate number of close games. The difference is the Giants have been winning the close games while the Lions have been losing them.