Everyone suffers from a condition called selective memory. It is the in/ability to remember certain things but (conveniently?) forget others. Many Giants fans have selective memory about the miracles (beyond the helmet catch, of course) that were required to win Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. In the Divisional Playoff in the XLII run, Dallas was the #1 Seed and they beat the Giants both times during the regular season. One of the lesser known details that is either not remembered or simply not well known is that in Q3 of that playoff game, DAL Left Tackle Flozell Adams got hurt. The entire game changed after that happened. Osi Umenyiora was all of a sudden able to pressure Romo and the distinct edge that Dallas had evaporated. What is easy to remember- the Gmen won the Super Bowl that year. What is not as easy to remember- the Gmen received some BIG LUCK from Adams’ injury. It is this blogger’s opinion that the Giants simply lose that game without Adams leaving the game.
Am I trying to diminish XLII? HELL NO!! Luck (variance) simply has more to do with a season’s outcome than we would like to admit. Luck works both ways. There were years where bad luck (variance) killed a Giants season… the bs pass interference call right before Flipper Anderson killed 1989. Plaxico 2008. Hey, if Gilbride adjusted in 2008 or if the Offensive Coordinator of Dallas adjusted to the loss of Adams by helping with Umenyiora quickly, the outcomes can still change. Making in-game adjustments is hard.
In previewing the PHL-NYG game, I think back to the parallels of Adams 15 years ago. Divisional foe. TD+ underdog. Playing the #1 seed. Beaten twice. Getting hot for the playoffs. Completely disrespected. Giants QB finding his way in the Wild Card round. It is a tough ask to pull out a win, but this is why they play the game. I suspect the Giants will need a piece of luck, be it some help from the referee, a lucky bounce or two, (Toomer having) two defenders bump into one another, or perhaps a recurrence of an injury to a PHL player that changes the dynamic as it did with Flozell Adams. No, we are not rooting for a PHL player to get hurt, but merely instead illustrate that the Giants will probably need some help to get past this team.
The Giants are not the same Giants team that got their doors blown off in the first game (a 48-22 drubbing). Many things have changed since then.
First: the Giants were without McKinney and Jackson, two of the best players on Defense. Versus a team as deep as the Eagles, the Secondary was spread paper thin with Jason Pinnock, Zyon Gilbert, and Tony Jefferson together getting meaningful playing time. The result was a cascade of bad coverage. Both Smith and Brown got easy TDs in the first matchup, which I do not think will be there this time with Jackson and McKinney both back as defenders.
Second: the Giants offense in no way resembles the one that the Eagles saw in that first contest. To quote Dan Schneier, the offense used to run through Barkley and now the offense runs through Jones. Or as I would say it- Jones has the ball in his hands on first down, not Barkley. It’s a far more robust attack. It is the way a 2020’s NFL Offense needs to become in order to win a championship. No, I am not saying the Giants are ready right now to win a title, but what I am saying is that this transformation over the past month is what gives the Giants a way of being more competitive at the right time. People are shorting the Giants. Even I dismissed the Giants playoff chances (probably a number of times this year) because the Offense was not ready for primetime. An offense that runs through the QB is ready for primetime.
Third: Daniel Jones continues to accelerate his play. He seemingly has more confidence every week and has gone from game manager to playmaker. His play this past weekend was elite. Elite QBs make a difference. They make good decisions and they make great plays.
Fourth: Isaiah Hodgins has come out of LITERALLY nowhere to become an X WR. We have chronicled his rise on this blog and told his story. Yet he keeps getting better and better. Things like this do not magically happen to franchises where they manufacture a WR out of thin air. Yet this is pretty much what happened to the Giants in 2022. It is why there is so much optimism in Giants Nation. We know this. No one else really knows who Hodgins is.
Those 4 things should make the game a lot more competitive. The point spread reflects this, at 7.5. The Giants gained a little respect. Jones gained a lot of respect.
Can the Giants win? Yes. Will they win? They need to play near perfect and get some breaks. Consider that the Vikings were the #31 pass defense. The Eagles are #1. Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Minnesota anymore. Bradberry (remember him? ugh), Gardner-Johnson, and Slay lead a tough unit. Reddick, Quinn and Cox lead a tough DL. Edwards is also in the mix. On Offense, you have Kelce and Johnson as 1st team All Pro and AJ Brown and Jalen Hurts as 2nd team All Pro. Of course personal accolades do not make a championship team, but the Eagles are loaded.
I don’t like statistics like #1 or #31 ranked, preferring top 25% and bottom 25%. Here’s the thing about a top 25% defense- they’ll stress your efforts. To quote Mike Tyson again: everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth. Daniel Jones was elite vs a bottom 25% defense. Against a top 25% defense is he punched in the mouth and does he get forced into more mistakes? Jones keeps improving so he may be up to the task. We have to be fair to him and recognize that a tough defense will give Jones fewer choices and make it harder for him to look as good as he was in Minnesota. In more tangible terms, it was one thing for Slayton and Hodgins to get these wide open looks, but the CBs and Safeties of the Eagles will not be as passive or magnanimous. They will have to earn more and Jones will have to continue to be accurate.
Lane Johnson is coming back from a groin injury. He will need surgery after the season but will play through it. What if it flares up during the game? “Lane Johnson is the second most important player on the Eagles’ roster,” explains Wonder, the UltimateNYG Draft analyst. “Assuming he plays, the Eagles are too deep and should beat the Giants.” What about the Giants resurgence making it a competitive game? Wonder respects the transformation of Daniel Jones greatly this season but explains that the Eagles defense is a different animal from the Vikings. “Jones is not going to get easy open WRs the way he did vs the Vikings. Slay and Bradberry are excellent corners, and Gardner-Johnson is back from injury, which will stiffen up their defense. Plus, the Vikings pass rush was Hunter. The Eagles pass rush is everybody.”
This is where we go back to Flozell. Hurts did not look so good in his comeback. He rates to be better after 2 weeks off. What if Lane Johnson is not 100%, or needs to come out? Expect him to play the entire game. The Giants need Ojulari to play (“day to day”) and for Thibodeaux to test Johnson. The mere fact that Johnson will need surgery after the end of the season tells us he cannot be 100%. That’s what needs to be the Giants path to a win.
Let’s talk about Hassan Reddick. Reddick, like Hunter, has a speed move around the EDGE to get to the QB. This blog discussed with such disappointment how Peart got beat at the end of the 2nd Quarter by Reddick (at that time with Arizona), and then how Jones allowed himself to get sack stripped. Those days are thankfully long gone. Jones, whether it is just him or probably through good coaching, is now stepping into the B gap on that speed rush from the right side. Hunter sells out. Reddick sells out. One of the reasons why Michael Strahan is such a legend is that he never sold out on his pass rush. He always was mindful of pocket contain. One of my favorite plays of all time which I have discussed before but need to retell here is in the game before the Dallas playoff game in 2007 vs Tampa Bay, Strahan is rushing the QB perhaps slightly wide, and Jeff Garcia steps into the B gap but Strahan knows his responsibility to maintain pocket integrity in his rush and he quickly goes back to his right and stops Garcia before that mobile QB can have any ideas of running wild. Strahan, yes Strahan, forced Tampa Bay to punt, and the Giants won that game. Minnesota, on the other hand, could not get off the field because Hunter could not do what Strahan did. Reddick does not do that either. His pass rush says- my number one job is to get to the QB, often at all costs. Reddick has added a cutback move where he can spin and go back toward the B gap, but it is not like Strahan where he is minding pocket contain. The difference for the Eagles is that they also have interior linemen like Graham and Cox who can clean up inside. So when Jones squeezes out, those defenders may very well be there to stop the gap. If I am the Eagles coaching staff, it is easy to watch the film and alert these players to what is happening. The Vikings, for their part, got help from a LBer who filled that gap, and Jones was no longer running wild in the second half. The point here is that Giants fans should not expect easy low hanging fruit, but if Reddick sells out, make him pay.
Jason Kelce is 35 years old. He probably benefitted from the rest as much as anyone. It is shame for Giants fans that Kelce should be ready for the 25 year old menace named Dexter Lawrence. Lawrence may get some pressures, but he rates to not rack up consistent pressure like he did versus Minnesota. Versus Minnesota he got 8 pressures. Versus PHI on Dec 11, he got 1. The Giants simply will not win when their best player generates 1 pressure. We need a lot more from Lawrence. If Martindale can scheme Lawrence to go against RG Seumalo and waste Kelce, all the better. Unfortunately this is simply a bad matchup for Lawrence because Kelce rates to neutralize the Giants best disruptor. I would like to believe that he will do more this game. It is going to take everything from Lawrence to make it happen.
There is one area where the Giants have a distinct edge. It’s the coaching staff. In 2008 the Giants were the #1 seed and lost to PHL because they were outcoached. If Kafka can gameplan an ascending Jones, and Martindale can lean on Jackson and McKinney, it makes the game more even. There is a lot for the new January Giants to do that they could not do in December. This game is a big ask. The coaches have to find a way. They have found a way all season. I trust them to not only gameplan properly but also to make the in-game adjustments to give the Giants a chance.
The two players I’ll be watching are Hurts and Johnson. If both are fine, it’s going to be hard to beat PHL.. not impossible, but very hard. Like in the Dallas playoff game of the 2007 season, play them tough, keep it close, and seize on a moment when something breaks your way. The Giants need to play their “A” game. Shock the world. I give the Giants a chance to win, but not a big chance. The oddsmakers imply the Giants have a 24% chance of winning. I think that is about right. The Giants rate to win 1 out of 4 times they play this game. Make this the 1. Play this team competitively, make them earn everything, stay in the game, make the in-game adjustments, and seize on that lucky break. That is the recipe for pulling out a victory.