If I told you back in August that I would not be writing a typical game preview for the last regular-season game, you would have probably assumed that the New York Giants were on their sixth losing and playoff-less season in a row. Instead, the Giants already locked into the #6 seed in the NFC playoffs with a 9-6-1 record. On paper, a win on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles does nothing to help the G-Men. On the other hand, the Eagles desperately need to win in order to ensure they maintain their grip on the #1 seed in the conference. If Philadelphia loses, they could lose the division title, a first-round playoff bye, and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
The scuttlebutt says Brian Daboll is going to rest many of his key and injured players. If true, there is little chance the Giants will pull off the upset as they will treat this contest more like a preseason game. Is that the right course of action to take? There are rational arguments to be made on both sides. Momentum versus protecting assets on an already thin team lay at the heart of the debate. At this point, Coach Daboll deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Before quarterback Jalen Hurts injured his shoulder a few weeks ago, the Eagles were cruising and appeared to be the NFL’s top team. Despite losing their last two games with a back-up quarterback, they are still ranked #1 in defense and #2 in offense in the league. That’s as good as it gets. As I’ve talked about before in previous game previews between these two teams, Philadelphia’s dominance over New York is largely a result of superior talent on both the offensive and defensive lines. They are just damn good up front. They win in the trenches. The Giants may be catching up, but they are still in the chase position here. The Eagles also have vastly superior talent at wide receiver and at cornerback.
As giddy as we all feel right now (and we should), keep in mind that the Giants are playing way over their heads. Their fast 6-2 start that included surprising upsets against the Titans, Packers, and Ravens allowed them to survive a 3-4-1 post-bye record with only one win in the NFC East. And those three wins came against the Texans, Commanders, and Colts. Perspective matters.
Sunday’s game should not be close, but understand the situation for both teams. Perhaps New York will see them in a few weeks at Lincoln Financial Field again.
THE INJURY REPORT:
- OC Jon Feliciano (back – questionable)
- DL Leonard Williams (neck – out)
- OLB Azeez Ojulari (ankle – out)
- CB Adoree’ Jackson (knee – doubtful)
- S Xavier McKinney (fingers – probable)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
I’m going to use my time here this week to discuss the state of the team moving forward, both in the short- and long-term.
The biggest outcome of the 2022 season is not the 9-6-1 record or the playoff appearance. It is the resurrection of Daniel Jones from the dead. Who the (blank) could have predicted that Giants fans would be giving Daniel Jones a standing ovation and chanting his name at MetLife Stadium in a playoff-clinching victory on New Year’s Day?!?
Unless I am completely misreading Daboll’s sideline and locker room interactions with his quarterback, for better or worse, Daniel Jones is going to be given big contract soon. If the Giants are right and Jones ends up being one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL, then the Giants rebuilding effort just got a heck of a lot shorter and easier. They won’t have to spend expensive draft capital on the next quarterback and can use that on other positions. They also don’t need to “waste” 2-3 more years on grooming a rookie. If they are wrong, then the rebuilding effort has no end in sight. That’s why the QB decision is bigger than the rest of the team at this point.
But for now, let’s keep things positive. Unless you have some sort of weird, personal hang-up on having your negative opinion of Jones being correct, how can you not be happy for his redemption? The good-guy vilified by the media and masses, almost run out of town, somehow maintains his focus and poise, and ends up winning over his harshest critics? That reads like a cheesy, heart-tugging, formulaic Hollywood movie. All we need now is Roy Firestone announcing on the air during a live interview with Jones that he has been given his new contract. (Screw off if you don’t get the Jerry McGuire reference).
I will reiterate what I’ve said since August when asked about my opinion of Jones. I won’t formulate my final opinion until the 2022 season is over. I told myself back in the summer that I wasn’t going to play a week-to-week evaluation game with him, but judge him on the full 17 games, assuming he didn’t get hurt, which would have also factored into the equation since has been injury-prone. Since we don’t know if he will even play on Sunday, ironically, that 17th game may now be his first playoff game. What if he gets to 18?
Meanwhile, what to do about Saquon Barkley? While not as explosive as his rookie season, Barkley is having his career-high rushing year. More was expected out of him as a passing target, especially in this system, but he’s still the most dangerous player on this team with the ball in his hands. Since his heavy day against the Texans on November 13th, Barkley is averaging 14 carries and four catches per game. How much do you pay a player at that position who the coaching staff now has touching the ball less than 20 times per game? I am pretty darn sure Daniel Jones will be back. I also think Saquon Barkley will be back. But I also would not be shocked to see the Giants let him walk if his price tag is too high. Perhaps the Franchise Tag comes into play here. There is a good chance it will be the Matt Breida and Gary Brightwell show on Sunday.
Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka have clearly settled on the Isaiah Hodgins (possession) / Richie James (slot) / Darius Slayton (deep threat) triumvirate at receiver to go along with a once-again surging Daniel Bellinger at tight end. This is not a line-up that scares anyone, but it is what it is. Wideouts who were ahead of these guys on the depth chart just a few months ago included Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, Sterling Shepard, Wan’Dale Robinson, Colin Johnson, David Sills, and Marcus Johnson. Slayton barely made the team as the #7 receiver, James was considered almost strictly a returner (who fumbled), and Hodgins was on the Practice Squad of another team. Needless to say, in the short-term, the Giants have to be praying that no one else gets hurt. That’s why we may see more of Golladay and Johnson on Sunday. The Giants need to hit this position in a major way in the offseason.
Which brings us to the offensive line. As most SHOULD have expected, this is still a work in progress. Andrew Thomas is more than steady at left tackle and capable of silencing his opponent. Evan Neal is going through the typical rookie growing pains, but for some reason a large portion of the fan base doesn’t believe in rookie growing pains. He will likely be up and down for whatever games remain. Inside, Jon Feliciano, Mark Glowinksi, Ben Bredeson, and Nick Gates are coming off of their best game as group, but they have been shaky as well. The Giants may sit or cut short the playing time of many of these guys and that doesn’t bode well against one of the very best defensive fronts in the game. Tough spot for Tyre Phillips, Matt Peart, Jack Anderson, and Wyatt Davis. Long-term, one gets the feeling the Giants are at least one really good inside player away from having an excellent line.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
If I told you back in August that Leonard Williams would be nagged and limited for much of the season with a neck injury, that Azeez Ojulari would miss 11 games, that Adoree’ Jackson would miss seven games, that Xavier McKinney would eight games, that starting corner Aaron Robinson would miss virtually all of the season, that two inside linebackers would be in-season pick-ups, and that some guys named Fabian Moreau and Nick McCloud would be starting at cornerback for much of the season where corners are often left on an island, your response would have been “Oh (expletive deleted)!”
The Giants’ 24th-ranked defense does not feel like a 24th-ranked defense. But here we are. They give up yards, but tough it out on 3rd down and in the red zone. Yet, they are still only middle of the pack in scoring defense (16th) and +2 in turnover differential (only five interceptions to go along with 13 fumble recoveries). Defensively, perhaps the biggest surprise has been just how bad the Giants are at defending the run (now 30th in terms of yards per carry). That’s bad news with Philadelphia, especially when the Giants are likely to sit Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams. Covering A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith with “starters” Moreau and McCloud or their back-ups is equally daunting. This could get ugly. We likely won’t see a lot of Kayvon Thibodeaux, Azeez Ojulari, Julian Love, and Xavier McKinney either.
Moving forward, long-term, I’m going to agree with Sy’56 here. As much as wide receiver is a desperate, desperate need on this team, I think corner is even more so. The Giants simply cannot afford to go into 2023 with the injury-prone Jackson (missed time in five of his six seasons), Moreau (who will be a free agent), Robinson (who will be coming off ACL and MCL injuries and may not be ready in August), McCloud, Darnay Holmes, Flott, Rodarius Williams, and Zyon Gilbert. You can scheme around wide receiver issues far easier than you can scheme around subpar cornerbacks. I would not be shocked to see the Giants spend two picks in the first four rounds on cornerbacks. You want a kick-ass, top-5 defense? You have to be able to cover people.
The other spot not getting enough attention is defensive line. Why do the Eagles and Cowboys do so well defensively? They come at you in waves up front. The Giants have Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams and that’s about it. Both play too many snaps and if one goes down, it affects the ENTIRE defense (see Leonard Williams this year). The good news is that D.J. Davidson was surprisingly productive before he got hurt; the bad news is he tore his ACL. Again, don’t be shocked if the Giants go defensive line earlier than you would expect. I expect Henry Mondeaux, Ryder Anderson, and Justin Ellis to get mauled by the Eagles’ starters, but this will be a good opportunity for them to prove us wrong.
Inside linebacker looks like another huge need area. The team was high on Darrian Beavers but he is another rookie who will be coming off an ACL. Jaylon Smith and Landon Collins feel like more stopgaps. We may see newcomer Jarrad Davis some this Sunday. Wink Martindale is an old inside linebacker coach. The position is still near and dear to his heart and he believes that speed at the position makes your defense play fast. Look for speedy inside guys who can play the run, cover, and rush the passer in the upcoming draft.
As long as the team can re-sign Julian Love, they look to have good talent and depth at safety. Same story with outside linebacker if they re-sign Jihad Ward to go along with Tomon Fox, who may see quite a bit of playing time on Sunday. Oshane Ximenes will get another chance to make his case. Dane Belton is likely to go through some more growing pains against the Eagles at safety. Nevertheless, this will be a good experience for him if he plays.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Many thought Jamie Gillan wouldn’t make it though the season. While he hasn’t shined, he is 15th in punting gross punting (47 yards per punt). It’s his net punting (40.8) that needs improving. His inside the 20 punting has improved a bit late in the season. He likely will be back in 2023. Where the team really needs to get its act together is finding dedicated punt and kick returners who can hold onto the ball as well as present a real threat to the opposing teams. Some fans think Thomas McGaughey is or should be on the hotseat.
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Brian Daboll on the game against the Eagles: “We have our meeting after practice. (General Manager) Joe (Schoen) and I talk after practice, in the evening, Saturday. That’s when we make our decisions (on who will play).”
THE FINAL WORD:
Assuming that the Giants follow through and sit or reduce the playing time of many of their key players and starters, this game should not be close. Philadelphia is the superior team and needs this game desperately. If this game remains close at all, that should really make the Eagles and their fans nervous.
These two teams might play each again later this month in a do-or-die situation for BOTH teams.
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