Despite a lackluster 4-7 record, the New York Giants are in first place in the NFC East and have the makings of a difficult matchup in the playoffs.
In a typical year, if the New York Giants were sitting with a record of 4-7 in December, they would likely be looking forward to the next season, with their playoff hopes seemingly dashed. However, this is 2020, and the 4-7 Giants sit atop the putrid NFC East and would make the playoffs if the season ended today.
The disappointing 4-7 record is a bit misleading, as the Giants have not been nearly as bad as their record would indicate. In their seven losses, the Giants have lost by an average of 7.86 points per game. When you take away the 36-9 drubbing at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers, the average drops to only 4.67 points per loss.
Of the seven losses that the Giants have suffered, six have been against teams with defenses currently ranked in the top 15 in the league, including the Steelers (#1), Rams (#4), Bears (#8), 49ers (#11), Eagles (#14), and Buccaneers (#15). Additionally, they have defeated the Redskins (#6) twice and the aforementioned Eagles. To say that the GMEN have faced a gauntlet of difficult defenses this season would be an understatement.
The Giants have some difficult defensive matchups remaining on the schedule with the Ravens (#3) and Cardinals (#13) still to come. The Giants’ offense has shown the ability to hang with the best defenses in the National Football League, which is something they will undoubtedly be tasked with again, should they make the playoffs.
Speaking of excellent defenses, the Giants boast a stout defense of their own.
Currently, Big Blue has the tenth-ranked defense in the National Football League. They have allowed the fifth-fewest rushing yards in the league and are currently 19th in the league in passing yards allowed. They are tied for 11th in sacks with 27, tied for 14th in interceptions with nine, and tied for third in forced fumbles with 9. This season, the Giants defense has shown the ability to come up with big plays, something that has been severely lacking in recent seasons.
The defensive line has been excellent against the run and has also shown the ability to get after the quarterback. Dalvin Tomlinson, Dexter Lawrence, Jabaal Sheard, and B.J. Hill have outperformed expectations along the defensive line. Meanwhile, Leonard Williams has been extremely productive, recording a career-high six sacks already this season for the Giants.
The linebacker play has been better than expected as well. Offseason free-agent addition Blake Martinez is currently in consideration for the Defensive Player of the Year Award with 101 total tackles, two sacks, one interception, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. The outside linebackers have done admirable after losing two of their top pash rushers, Lorenzo Carter (ruptured Achilles) and Oshane Ximinez (torn rotator cuff) to a season-ending injury and trading another in Markus Golden to the Arizona Cardinals. A combination of David Mayo, Kyler Fackrell, Tae Crowder, Carter Coughlin, Cam Brown, and Devante Downs have stepped up to fill the void of losing the top trio of outside linebackers.
The secondary for the Giants has been excellent as well. James Bradberry, Logan Ryan, Jabrill Peppers, and Julian Love have become one of the more formidable secondaries in the league. The four of them have combined for six interceptions, four forced fumbles, and 33 pass deflections. Isaac Yiadom and Darnay Holmes have provided serviceable play as well in the secondary. The Giants received another boost to their defensive backfield last week, when their uber-talented second-round draft pick, Xavier McKinney, made his debut. As McKinney receives more reps and gets a more prominent role in the Giants secondary, this defensive backfield looks to be a major strength as the team heads into the final part of the regular season.
While the defense has been excellent for New York this season, the offense has struggled. Currently, they are ranked 30th overall in points scored, 28th in passing yards, and 29th in rushing yards. On the season, Big Blue has averaged a paltry 19.5 points per game. However, over the past seven weeks, the team has averaged a much more respectable 27.14 points per game.
A lot of the offensive struggles for the GMEN can be attributed to the fact that nine of the eleven teams that they have faced have featured defenses ranked in the top 15 in the league. Some of the offensive ineptitude is a direct result of injuries. Superstar running back Saquon Barkley was lost early in the second game of the season, and Sterling Shepard missed four weeks of action after being injured against the Bears in Week 2.
Perhaps the biggest hindrance to offensive production early on for the Giants was due to poor play from the offensive line. The lack of preseason games negatively impacted the early performance along Big Blue’s offensive line. Nick Gates had not received any game action at the center position after moving from the tackle spot. Draft picks Andrew Thomas, Matt Peart, and Shane Lemieux did not benefit from NFL game action prior to being inserted into the lineup. Cameron Fleming didn’t receive any reps with his new linemates after coming over via free agency from Dallas.
The initial results were indicative of an offensive line with a lot of new personnel, a new coach, and little to no experience playing next to one another. However, Big Blue’s offensive line has shown improvement over the past few weeks. The improvement in the offensive line has been apparent in the reduction of turnovers from Daniel Jones, as well as the ability of the offense to have a productive running game in recent weeks. Through the first nine games of the season, Daniel Jones had 14 turnovers (nine interceptions and five fumbles). In the past two weeks, Jones has not turned the ball over.
During the first five games of the season, the Giants averaged a pathetic 79 rushing yards per game and had only one game with over 100 yards (136 against the Rams). Over the past six games, the Giants have rushed for over 100 yards in every game and are averaging 142 rushing yards per game. If they can continue to rush at the clip they have over the past six games, their rushing attack would rank in the top five in the NFL. The GMEN seem to have found something in Wayne Gallman, who has rushed for 293 yards and six touchdowns over the past five games.
The passing attack for the GMEN has not been as good as it was in 2019 when they averaged 233.2 passing yards per game. Currently, they are averaging 200.5 yards per game on the season. However, they have averaged 216.16 passing yards per game over the past six contests, further evidence of improvement from the offensive line. The recent emergence of Evan Engram and the return of Sterling Shepard should help further the advancement of the Giants’ passing attack moving forward.
Another major asset for New York this season has been the addition of Graham Gano. After the team cut Aldrick Rosas following his arrest for a DUI, the kicking game for the Giants was thrown into disarray. The team would ultimately sign free agent Graham Gano who was released in July by the Carolina Panthers after he missed the final four games of the 2018 season and all of the 2019 season due to a leg injury. Gano has been nothing short of spectacular this season for the Giants, going 25-26 in field goal attempts and 17-17 in extra-point attempts.
Last week, Gano set a Giants record by making 22 straight field goal attempts. Currently, he is 4th in the NFL in field goal percentage at 96.2% and is 9th in points with 92. Big Blue wisely signed Gano to a three-year $14 million extension. Gano gives the Giants arguably their most clutch kicker since Lawrence Tynes.
Certainly, losing Daniel Jones to a hamstring injury during this playoff run is not ideal. Jones was able to practice in a limited capacity this week, suggesting that his absence may not be prolonged. The dual-threat that he poses at the quarterback position presents a challenge for opposing defenses to gameplan against. The Giants will need backup Colt McCoy to basically be a game manager this week against the Seattle Seahawks if they hope to win. Luckily, Seattle comes in with the worst pass defense in the league, which should help his cause.
While the Cowboys and Redskins both arguably have easier remaining schedules, the Giants seem to have a better team than both of their division rivals. If they can get past Seattle, the Giants have the Cardinals, Browns, Ravens, and Cowboys remaining. They will need to continue to show improvement if they hope to capture their first division title since 2011.
Should the New York Giants make the playoffs, there are a lot of reasons to believe that they will be a difficult matchup. From their defense, which has performed well thus far and continues to improve, to their young athletic offensive line that seems to be improving each week, to their newly found rushing attack, to their quarterback who is always a threat to tuck it and run or to find an open receiver for a big play, to their clutch weapon in the kicking game, or the bravado that this team brings with new head coach Joe Judge at the helm, this team has shown the ability to hang with some of the best teams in the National Football league and likely is a team that contenders are hoping to avoid a matchup against in the playoffs.