ECSTATIC! Pinch me. The Giants beat the heavily favored Packers.
There are so many amazing things that happened in this game that I can’t wait to discuss; I am practically at a loss for where to start. But we can try by looking at the setup of this game before anyone took the field.
The Giants were 9-10 point underdogs. The moneyline for this game reflected a 22% chance of the Giants winning the game. I frankly did not give the Giants a chance of winning, and even said so on Twitter when I predicted earlier in the week that they’d be 4-4 after the next 4 games. That was not a knock on the Giants, who were overachievers, but merely a lack of respect for Tannehill, Mayfield, Rush and Fields compared to playing the likes of Aaron Rodgers.
And then Leonard Williams, who was questionable all week, was declared inactive for the game. How much more can one injury-riddled team take? At that point, I was just hoping the Giants would be competitive enough to just build on something in a rebuilding year.
Here is the 13 minute set of highlights to the game. We are going to note a lot of plays in the discussion below marked with a bold timestamp which is referenced to the video.
The Giants got out of the blocks slowly. Rodgers drove the Packers, but a well timed and well schemed blitz (0:27) with S Dane Belton forced a FG.
Note how Jones and Barkley had trouble early with swing/screen passes.
Regular readers to this blog know that one of my pet peeves is the inability of this team to execute a simple screen pass. Here, we see it end 3 consecutive possessions. Thankfully by the 3rd possession, the Giants started working Slayton into the game with play action. People like Dan Schneier and myself have been yelling from the mountaintops to get play action/Slayton going. When you do not send Toney, Golladay and Robinson to London, for heaven’s sake why are you not throwing the ball to the only WR option who can stretch the field and take pressure off of Barkley’s box? In the third possession when the Offense got things going, it was a play action fake to Barkley at 2:21 that found Jones hitting Slayton for 26 yards. Oxygen. From this play forward, the Giants Offense began finding rhythm.
What is important with this playcall is what has been important all season long- ADJUSTMENTS. It took Kafka 2 possessions to figure out that Barkley Barkley Barkley was not going to work. Typically it would take Giants Offensive Coordinators at least a half a season to tweak the playcalling. Gilbride (as only one example.. Shula and Garrett were worse) would finally figure out he needed to use a TE/screen pass after getting clobbered behind a bad Offensive Line for many games, then have more balance with a single win, only to revert thereafter and then shocking (not) back to losses. This coaching staff shortens the cycle of adjustments from games to possessions. And we are seeing this every single game this season, which gives us much more confidence in the sustainability of this success.
Play action continued to get the job done (2:39), moving the sticks, and getting the Giants on the board, trailing 10-3.
Martindale’s defense has been bend-don’t-break all season. Defenders know their assignments. They make the tackles. They are tough in the red zone. It’s my read that if/when personnel is upgraded, they’ll “bend” even less. That’s why I keep referring to this year as a rebuild. The on-the-job training of rookies and not-ready-for-prime time players is making this team better each week. Essentially, good coaches like Martindale are accelerating this process.
I want to take pause from the game at 4:23 to note the TD from Mercedes Lewis. An interesting factoid came up that this NY Giants blogger is not going to let go unmentioned. You see, Mercedes Lewis is a 38 year old Tight End who played for 12 years in Jacksonville before (likely finishing) the last 5 in GB. A former Round 1 pick out of UCLA, it nearly blew my mind (but really should not have) that Lewis is THE ONLY ROUND 1 PICK THAT AARON RODGERS HAS THROWN A TD PASS TO IN HIS ENTIRE CAREER. That’s right, stars like Jordy Nelson (2008), Greg Jennings (2006), and Devante Adams (2014) are all Round 2 steak, no sizzle. It took Rodgers finally getting hooked up with an over-the-hill lunch pail Tight End (one 2nd team All Pro in 17 seasons) to give him any Round 1 TD connection! Just another reminder that it is QB, Protect QB, and Rush the QB. Love those Round 2 Wide Receivers. Amani Toomer, Sterling Shepard, Steve Smith, Joe Jurevicius. Round 1? No thanks.
The Giants find themselves down 17-3 with not much time left in the first half. It is 3rd & 9 and the team needs a play. With 2:44 left in H1, you have to remember that if the drive ends here, we get 3 points and there is plenty of time for Rodgers to go all the way down the field and score 7. Instead, go to 5:21 and watch Darius Slayton at the bottom of your screen get 3 crucial yards after the catch to move the sticks. Ginormous. Huge.
The Defense may not look pretty in the first half, but please notice that the Packers did not get sloppy YAC. The Giants defenders were sure tacklers (see McKinney at 6:00, the last defender, and Love three plays later at 6:17 to stop the player from going out of bounds and keep the clock moving). Blocking and tackling won’t make headlines, but it made the Packers work more for what they got. This is one of the building blocks in the rebuild and a reason why the Giants find themselves competitive in EVERY game they have played this season.
There were more than a couple of plays (3 at least) where I found error in the way the clock was winding down at the end of the first AND second half. Yes, yes. We know that the clock on the NFL Network is not the official’s clock. Yet there were precious seconds not elapsed. Look at the game clock get pushed back literally 4 seconds at ~5:55. Of course a timeout may have been called, but I saw this a few times, and at the end of the game it cost the Giants a few more seconds, all of which were critical.
All right. The score is 17-3 and then 20-10 at the half. How many of you honestly thought we were winning this game? I still did not. We saw small things, building blocks, but not enough to believe a win was coming. Any fan was happy with competitiveness. The gravy would arrive in the second half.
Slayton 6:39. Slayton again 6:52. Jones getting protection. Jones QB draw. Jones 3rd down QB draw again is stopped. I hope Neal (7:12) gets coached up on holding his block longer. A 20-13 FG was collected in the first possession of the 2nd half.
Get a load of Sexy Dexy! 8:18 That is one sack dance I can watch all day. That ends the drive.
We finally get to the pivotal moment in the entire game. I doubt that others will pin this play down as the biggest of the game, but it was for me. The Giants have the ball. They trail 20-13. The field position is super ugly at the 9 yard line. Barkley on first down goes down for a 1 yard loss and is removed from the game with an injury. 2nd and 11 from the 8 yd line. 8:26 PLAY ACTION TO BREIDA WITH A FLARE PASS TO BREIDA IN THE RIGHT FLAT. YAC. FIRST DOWN. If the Giants fail on this down, be it with a bad playcall or with poor execution, it is 3rd and long, Rodgers likely gets the ball back near midfield with an easy time to make it 23-13 or more. Instead, Breida gets them out of the hole, and the Giants drive 91 yards to tie the game. 2nd and 11 from the 8. Big.
On this drive, we see plenty of (1) Play action (2) Jones uses his legs to move the sticks (3) Jones roll out and pass on the run and (4) Stepping up in the pocket just enough to avoid pressure. I would prefer he take one additional step (consistently a half second earlier), but he certainly got it done.
Luck. Right now Giants fans are warmly ensconced in their win, with 10:11‘s theatrics purged from their memory. The bungee jumping of this Special Teams muff is not something I want to relive either. Just a reminder you have to be good and lucky to win games.
Speaking about theater, the Barkley show resumed (at 10:29) when the star RB (“super bullish” in 2022) returned from injury and rumbled for 40 yards on a crossing pattern. YAC YAC YAC. He capped the drive with a TD (10:44) out of the wildcat for the Giants to take their first lead of the game.
At this point, the Giants have just scored 17 points unanswered, trailing at the half 20-10, now up 27-20.
Bend. Don’t break. The Giants red zone defense did it again with 2 deflections on 3rd and 4th down 11:48 and 11:58. Martindale dialed up blitzes from the Left Side with Love and McKinney. Raanan reported that it was McKinney who got the ball batted for an incompletion to end the drive.
The punter committing a Safety was exactly what was required. The Giants killed some clock, and got 30 yards of field position for 2 inconsequential points. Essentially the Giants D shut down Rodgers & the Pack in the second half, and scored on every possession until the final one where they took a knee.
This win says so many things. Let’s bullet them:
- Coaching advantage
- Jones (Week 3-5) playing better than any time in his career
- Schoen’s inherited weak roster (via horrible cap) not limiting the team
- rookies like Bellinger, Belton, Thibodeaux, Davidson, Neal, Fox (and even Ezeudu before injury) seeing meaningful minutes
- Injuries to players like Ojulari, Toney, Williams (and Adoree Jackson in H2) have not stopped this team from winning
- backups like Breida and McCloud came in today and made a difference
- Jaylon Smith is helping the LBer corps in a big way
- 21 players on Defense made at least 1 tackle, that is sick
- No turnovers, Jones is protecting the ball
- Offensive line was very good, not great, but certainly good enough to let Jones work (4 hits, 1 sack against a vg defense)
- Still plenty of room for improvement in the screen game, but I have supreme confidence in this coaching staff to accomplish nearly anything right now, given time
- Slayton 6 receptions for 79 yards and if Jones puts the ball in stride for him late near the end of Q1 on the 3rd possession, Slayton goes to the house
- Slayton takes pressure off of Barkley, and Barkley off of Slayton
- Scheme-wise, it is kind of scary how much more potential there is if this team gets players back AND in future years when they are not cap strangled anymore
If Jones stays healthy and continues his progression, he will be part of this team’s future. I cannot say enough good things about Daboll and his staff. It is only 5 games, and the NFL has seen its fair share of one and done head coaches who failed to live up to impressive debuts. Yet Daboll seems not only in command, he knows exactly what he is doing all the time. We said the organization needed to go outside. We got Schoen and Daboll from outside, and these guys are turning everything around faster than anyone (yes, even the most optimistic!) could have believed. I am still calling this season a rebuild. But don’t tell the players and the coaches that.