To date, the New York Football Giants have had an NFC East problem. The facts are right in front of us:
- Overall record: 7-5-1
- NFC East record: 0-3-1
- Record outside of the division: 7-2
And any serious fan of this team knows this has been a problem for years. The Eagles are 23-6 against the Giants in their last 29 games. The Cowboys are 11-1 against the Giants in their last 12 games. Even against lowly Washington, the Giants are 0-2-1 in their last three games.
The obvious answers are talent and coaching. But if you dig a little deeper, the real problem appears the Giants are simply losing the battles within the trenches more than anything else. The other teams in the division have better offensive lines, and the teams in the division have been better and deeper in the front seven on defense. The Giants took steps to rectify these problems in offseason, including with both 1st-round picks, but they still are bringing up the rear in the division and a lot more talent acquisition remains to be done in order to close the gap.
The Eagles are clearly the best team in the NFC, and their 48-22 dismantling of the Giants last Sunday demonstrated just how much better they are than Big Blue. The Cowboys swept the Giants, but those contests were closer. Dallas is also clearly the better team, but the Giants can compete with them. The Commanders and Giants are fairly equally matched, as indicated by their 20-20 tie two weeks ago. However, injury issues on the Giants, particularly in the secondary, but also on the offensive line and in the receiving corps, most likely give the Commanders the tactical edge at this point in time. Washington has also had three weeks to prepare for the Giants (the week before the last game and the past two weeks since they had a bye week) and is almost completely healthy with no players missing practice this week.
Nevertheless, right now, everything is in front of the Giants. They are not a super-talented team. They have injuries. They are 0-3-1 in their last four games. But they are still 7-5-1 in mid-December. Their playoff fate is still in their own hands. Technically, the Giants are in 4th-place in the NFC East. The 7-5-1 Commanders have a better division record. But if the Giants beat the Commanders, they will own the head-to-head match-up and be in the driver’s seat for Wild Card spot. For all intents and purposes, Sunday night’s game is almost as important as a playoff game. It is probably the most important game this team has played since the 2016 season.
THE INJURY REPORT:
- WR Richie James (concussion – questionable)
- TE Daniel Bellinger (rib – questionable)
- OG Josh Ezeudu (neck – out)
- OG Shane Lemieux (toe – out)
- DL Leonard Williams (neck – questionable)
- OLB Jihad Ward (concussion – questionable)
- CB Adoree’ Jackson (knee – out)
- CB Nick McCloud (illness – questionable)
- LB Micah McFadden (neck/ankle – probable)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The Washington Commanders have a damn good and well-coached defense. They are currently 4th in the NFL overall and one of the most balanced defenses, being 9th against the run, 7th against the pass. They are also 10th in scoring defense. Two weeks ago, despite playing four full quarters and 10 minutes in overtime, the Giants were held to 316 total net yards (134 yards rushing and 182 yards passing). While quarterback Daniel Jones was 25-of-31 (104.3 QBR), only missing on six passes, including a costly drop by Darius Slayton, the Giants average gain per pass play was just over five yards. A bigger issue was that Saquon Barkley was held to 63 total yards with only three of those yards embarrassingly coming after halftime.
Pundits and fans can point fingers everywhere: coaching, quarterback, wide receiver, running back, tight end, offensive line. All had a role in the team’s inability to score a single point in the 1st and 4th quarters, as well as overtime. Indeed, had it not been for Azeez Ojulari’s sack-fumble-recovery early in the 3rd quarter, the Giants’ offense would not have been given a very short field to score their final points of the game. Their final seven possessions resulted in six punts and a missed field goal, gaining only six first downs, three of which came on one drive. After the 20-yard drive for a touchdown at the beginning of the 3rd quarter, the Giants gained only one yard for the rest of regulation. It was ugly.
If I was to pinpoint one primary problem for the NYG offense in that game, it was the inability of LG Nick Gates, OC Jon Feliciano, and RG Mark Glowinski to block stud defensive tackles Daron Payne (4 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 TFLs) and Jonathan Allen (8 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 forced fumble). Both of these players were wreaking havoc both against the run and the pass. The New York offensive tackles actually held up well in this game, but the interior line just couldn’t handle the strength of the Commanders’ defense. Gates is still rounding into form after a long layoff from a career-threatening leg injury. Feliciano and Glowinski played despite neck and back injuries, respectively, that made them both questionable for the December 4th game against the Commanders. Hopefully, all three play better.
Saquon Barkley said he had a great week of practice and readily admits his team needs him now to make big plays. Daniel Jones has a history of playing extremely well at Washington (7 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 111.4 QBR in 3 career starts there). But the Giants are not going to be able to do much unless Gates, Feliciano, and Glowinski play much better than they did on December 4th. It’s almost really that simple. Barkley and Jones can’t do their things if the line doesn’t give them room to operate.
“Those two D-tackles – especially Allen – I think he’s one of the better defensive tackles in the league,” said Gates this week. “And especially what he does, there’s not many other defensive tackles that can play in that body. They’re big, strong guys. The big thing is trying to keep them away from your body and move your feet on them. You don’t want them to get coasting.”
“Allen is one of the premier tackles in the league, one hundred percent,” Feliciano said. “He kind of gets, I don’t want to say ‘lost in the sauce’ there. They have a lot of first round guys… But Jon Allen is definitely a really, really good player.”
“There’s things that they do that definitely create problems,” Glowinski said. “But it will always be us controlling our techniques, making sure we’re putting ourselves in places to succeed, making sure that we’re (executing) proper assignments and things like that. There are things that pop up throughout the game. It’s just us making sure that we’re putting ourselves in the right position and place, making sure that we’re all on the same page, communications, fundamentals, just knowing where we’re going.”
One added advantage Washington will have this time is the return of top draft pick DE Chase Young. Like the Eagles and Cowboys, this is another team with a good secondary and New York’s talent-challenged receiving corps will likely struggle. Commanders get CB Benjamin St-Juste back. Slayton had a big 55-yard catch in the last game, but also had a huge drop. It sure would be nice if Kenny Golladay could make ONE freaking memorable play before the Giants cut him in the offseason.
Personally, I think Jones and Barkley have their fate in their hands. The contracts of both are up. Both will want big money. This is the biggest game of the season for the Giants. And in order for New York to win, both Jones and Barkley need to elevate the play of those around them and be difference makers. If they can’t do that, in a game like this, then I’m not sure these are the players to build around.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Giants fans have known for some time that this game was going to be the most important of the regular season. We had all hoped that FS Xavier McKinney and CB Adoree’ Jackson would be back for this contest, giving a huge boost to a New York defense that has increasingly struggled in their absence. Alas, it is not to be and the Giants will have to get by once again with their depleted secondary. In the last game, Taylor Heinicke threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions. WR Terry McLaurin caught 8 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. Slot receiver Curtis Samuel chipped in with 6 catches for 63 yards and WR Jahan Dotson had 5 catches for 54 yards and a costly touchdown. Tackling was an issue for the New York linebackers and secondary with the targets making big yards and scoring after the catch.
If that weren’t bad enough, the Giants also gave up 165 yards on the ground, allowing 4.6 yards per rush. Rookie RB Bryan Robinson out-performed everyone on the Giants, carrying the ball 21 times for 96 yards.
The reporters finally asked Wink Martindale about his unit’s struggling run defense. “It’s been a struggle,” replied Martindale. “We’ve played with more DBs than we ever have this year, just to change things up. So, I think that’s part of it. I think teams are just running the ball more and we’ve played three really good mobile quarterbacks.” (My interpretation of this is that Martindale feels like he has to play more defensive backs in order to prevent big plays in the passing game due to the talent dropoff. The tradeoff is weakening your run defense).
When asked about defending the edges, he responded, “I think there’s a multitude of things that we’re working on to try to remedy that. I don’t think it’s just always on the edges, I think there’s some right up the middle too that we’ve had some issues with. So, it’s like one of those things when you start working on it, you’re plugging the dike. I’m running out of fingers and toes to plug the dike. So, we’re just going to continue to work at it and try to get better and play better defense, coach better defense, and go attack this team just like we do every Sunday.” (Pure speculation here but I think Wink knows he needs better depth on the defensive line and better talent at inside linebacker).
The issue for the Giants against Washington two weeks ago wasn’t Dexter Lawrence or edge players Kayvon Thibodeaux, Azeez Ojulari, and Jihad Ward. They all played fairly well. Leonard Williams left the game with a neck injury that still has him limited. This will be his first action since leaving that game. It’s absolutely critical that he plays a full game and is effective in doing so. The Giants desperately need him. The drop-off to the no-name reserves is just too great. In addition, while both Micah McFadden and Jaylon Smith had their moments on December 4th, they also struggled in lateral pursuit. Like many running games today, the Commanders use a lot of sleight of hand and misdirection. Both inside guys need to play disciplined football.
The defensive keys are obvious. The same things that were true two weeks ago remain. Attempt to limit the damage of Robinson and the other running backs. Without Adoree’ Jackson, pray CB Fabian Moreau can do a better job in defending McLaurin this time around. Moreau may have had his worst day of the season that day. (To keep things in perspective with the Giants right now, remember Moreau, who is currently the team’s top healthy cornerback, was cut by the Texans in August). What may help the Giants is the return of slot corner Darnay Holmes, who missed the first game with a shoulder injury. The Commanders were able to exploit his replacement, Zyon Gilbert, at times in that game. The Giants also need a strong game from Nick McCloud, who has been battling illness all week. If he is under the weather, we may see more of Cor’Dale Flott or Rodarius Williams.
Washington’s interior offensive line is more consistent than New York’s. But the outside tackles had problems with Thibodeaux, Ojulari, and Ward. The Giants need more of that from these three this week. We also saw how big turnovers were in the December 4th game. A fumble by the Giants led to three points for Washington. A fumble by the Commanders led to a touchdown for New York. The team that wins the turnover battle will likely prevail on Sunday night.
One final point: New York’s tackling was atrocious in the last game against Washington. If they can clean that up, that could be the difference as well.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Despite the punt block, the Giants had two more costly special teams plays last week, including the botched punt and a 66-yard kickoff return. Special teams have been one of the most disappointing elements of New York’s play this year. In the last game between these two teams, the Giants did an OK job on punt and kick coverage, as well as punt and kick returns. Jamie Gillan had one of his better games with a net average of 42.7 with three punts downed inside the 20. Keep in mind that Washington has one of the best punters in the NFL. Returner Dax Milne, who missed the last game, returns and the Giants will have to deal with him this time around.
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Offensive Coordinator Mike Kafka on Washington’s two defensive tackles: “They’re aggressive, they’re violent, they get up field and they play almost every snap. They never come off the field. It’s going to be a great challenge for us.”
THE FINAL WORD:
These are two teams that are relatively evenly matched, but Washington will have the advantages of playing at home, having three weeks to prepare for the same opponent, and being healthier. On the flip side, coming off a bye week can lead to rusty play. The Commanders get Chase Young back, but the Giants will also hopefully have Leonard Williams for a full game this time around. The addition of Darnay Holmes could be significant too. I would also not underestimate the rustiness of Gates, nor the injuries that Feliciano and Glowinski played with in the last game.
I’ll finish with what I said earlier. Jones and Barkley need to make plays in key situations. Turnovers and tackling are also huge.
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