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Five Things: Week 15 – New York Giants at Washington Commanders

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It’s back to winning ways for the first time in five weeks for the Giants as they defeat the Washington Commanders 20-12, helped by a monster performance from Kayvon Thibodeaux. Here are five things that stood out. 

Primetime Likes Me  

In the lead-up to Sunday’s critical game, Kayvon Thibodeaux was asked about his first game under the spotlight of Sunday Night Football, and his reply? “Prime time likes me. Y’all can use that one.” By the time the game had finished, it was fair to say that Kayvon had proven exactly what he meant. 

The newly crowned NFC Defensive Player of the Week dominated the game from the get-go with three huge tackles on the Commanders first drive, but the defining moment for the young rookie came during Washington’s third drive in a play scarily similar to one from overtime two weeks ago. 

With Washington backed up on their own 10-yard line thanks to a penalty, Heinicke took the snap, and before he had a chance to set himself, Thibodeaux blew past offensive lineman Charles Leno Jr., swiped the ball out of Heinicke’s hands, followed the fumble across the goal line, scooped it up, and took it in for not only the Giants’ first defensive score this season but Thibodeaux’s first since he had one as a tight end in high school. 

His final stat line for the day? 12 tackles (9 solo), 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 fumble, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 touchdown.  

The 97-Yard Drive  

With the momentum changing after Thibodeaux’s touchdown, there was hope that it would invigorate the offense; however, after the Washington punt was downed on the 3-yard line, most would have expected a quick three and out. That’s not what happened, as Daniel Jones led potentially the best drive of the season so far and the Giants’ longest in eight seasons. 

This was not a high-octane sprint down the field; it was more like a methodical march, with the Giants carving out an 18-play drive that took over eight and a half minutes off the clock with a short pass-heavy attack that included a clutch 4th down conversion to Richie James and culminated in a 3-yard touchdown run with Saquon Barkley lined up in the wildcat. 

It is only fair that Mike Kafka should get some credit for this drive. Kafka, who has made questionable decisions at times, has overall had a successful first season as a play-caller. This is evidenced by the improvement in red-zone touchdown conversion as the Giants have moved from 32nd last year (44.74 percent) to an impressive 8th this year (63.5 percent). 

Spin Move Barkley  

It’s no secret that since his 152-yard showing against the Houston Texans, Barkley just hasn’t been able to get a lot going on the ground, and his stellar rushing season has stuttered. From the season opener to week 10, his average rushing yards per game was 103.4, which has dropped to a measly 38 in the last four weeks, and as such, questions about his durability have begun to be raised again. 

Barkley did little to dispel those rumours in the first three quarters of Sunday’s game, as he was unable to show off his previous explosiveness, rushing 12 times for 39 yards and showing no sign of the shifty cuts he has become known for, aside from one instance during the Giants touchdown drive. In the fourth quarter, though, something switched, and Barkley started not only breaking off some chunk runs but pulling out a trio of Madden-esque spin moves that the Commanders defence could not seem to handle. This invigorated Barkley is what we need as we enter crunch time, and the fire seems to have been lit. 

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The Ending  

It would not be a Giants game without a bit of drama, though, would it? As has been customary for the Giants faithful, we found ourselves in yet another tight game entering the final two minutes and with the score at 20-12 as Washington started what would be their final drive. 

Frustratingly, the Giants seemed to crumble at the worst time, as within three plays (including the kick-off return), Washington was already in the red zone after two plays. As nightmares of another 20-20 game going into overtime started to creep into existence, cornerback Nick McCloud had an excellent opportunity to ice the game but dropped the interception, giving Washington another chance. 

With the hearts of Giants fans firmly in their mouths, Heinicke almost turned into the heartbreaker with a run towards the end zone that looked destined to be converted before the monstrous Thibodeaux crushed him at the 1-yard line. A one-yard touchdown by Brian Robinson was then negated by an illegal formation penalty on Terry McLaurin. Another incomplete pass followed before a controversial non-call on the game-sealing pass breakup by Darnay Holmes that, on reflection, the Giants were lucky to get away with. 

The Unsung Heroes 

With so many big talking points in the game, it’s tough to highlight some of the players that shone in this game, so here are a handful of my unsung heroes: 

  • Landon Collins: Called up from the practise squad for what was billed as a revenge game, made a number of key third-down stops. 
  • Jason Pinnock: In his best game of the season, had a quarterback hit, five total tackles, and forced a fumble. 
  • Richie James: Came up big with a couple of key catches on the 97-yard touchdown drive, including two key first-down catches. 
  • Ben Bredeson: Playing in his first game since October, instantly made the offensive line better while also making a key block on the Barkley touchdown run. 
  • Dexter Lawrence, Azzez Ojulari, and Ryder Anderson: All three got themselves a sack of Heinicke during the game, while Lawrence also forced a fumble that was recovered by Leonard Williams. 
  • Graham Gano: Two 50-yard field goals in the second half, both of which kept us ahead by eight points. 
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Five Things: Week 12 – Thanksgiving: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys

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In a game that most expected the Giants to be blown away, it wasn’t as one-sided as first feared but due to a 2nd half collapse, the Giants still lost 20-28 against the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving. Here are five things we learned:

The Good

Let’s be honest, this was a game of two halves, and the first half was mostly very positive from the Giants’ perspective. Sure, it wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but on the whole, the Giants frustrated the Cowboys on both sides of the ball.

After the defense forced a turnover on downs on the Cowboys’ first drive, the unit seemed to galvanize itself and mostly kept the Cowboys’ offence at bay. On five drives, the Cowboys did score a touchdown; however, the Giants forced the aforementioned turnover on downs, two three-and-outs that were punted away, and two interceptions of Dak Prescott on the Giants’ side of the field (one by Rodarius Williams and one by Julian Love), which doubled their season tally.

The offence was a mixed bag, but it was able to put up 13 points on six drives, thanks to two Graham Gano field goals, one of which was a franchise record-tying 57 yards and a touchdown drive to counter Dallas’, which was highlighted by a phenomenal 44-yard catch by the rejuvenated Darius Slayton, who led the team in receiving yards once again.

The Bad

You would have thought that coming out of the locker room for the second half up 13-7 would spur the Giants to carry on their impressive first-half showing, but in reality, what happened was a complete capitulation on both sides of the ball, which Dallas took full advantage of.

The Cowboys again had five drives in a half, but unlike their poor first-half result, this time their drives went like this: touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, missed field goal, kneel down to end the game. Once again, the Giants seemed unable to contain the opposition’s tight end corps, which accounted for their three touchdowns. For the Giants, however, there will be one player under the spotlight this week, and that’s Darnay Holmes. Holmes lined up continuously against Cowboy receiver CeeDee Lamb, and Lamb, who finished the game with six catches for 109 yards, always seemed to have the advantage in the matchup. He was able to draw two DPI penalties against Holmes, one of which was potentially the most questionable call we’ve seen by the officials this season.

The Ugly

It’s fair to say that the defense struggled in the second half, but the offence was just downright uninspiring. The running game, which had struggled from the start, was unable to get going as the Giants’ makeshift offensive line yet again was ineffective in being able to open up running lanes, and the passing attack wasn’t much better due to a mixture of pressure and off-target throws.

The Giants’ success is almost entirely tied to the fortunes of Jones and Barkley, and when neither plays well, the offence comes apart at the seams, which makes for unpleasant viewing. This was highlighted by a brutally failed fourth down attempt, in which part of the blame could have been placed on either party. Interestingly, there are whispers amongst the fanbase that Barkley is suffering from a minor injury, as he was nearly rushed by third-stringer Gary Brightwell despite having double the touches behind the same offensive line.

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Thibodeaux’s Breakout is Coming

It’ll be tough for the Giants fanbase to find a plus coming out of this game, but there was one, and that’s the continued development of their fifth overall pick, Kayvon Thibodeaux.

So far this season, Thibodeaux has been a victim of box-score watchers who will look at his stats prior to the Cowboys game, see eight games played, nineteen pressures, three QB hits, and one sack, and label him a bust. However, to really appreciate what Thibodeaux brings to the table for the Giants, you need to look beyond that.

His impact on the Cowboys game was obvious, as he generated pressure on 38.1% of his 21 pass rush snaps (nine pressures, five QB hits), ranking third among all players this season. He now has a 14.0% win rate, which leads all rookies, and this is despite his season only starting in week 3 due to injury. He’s also not been able to line up with fellow edge rusher Azeez Ojulari yet this season, but with Ojulari returning from IR this coming week, some of the attention could be drawn away, which could lead to those near sacks showing up on that pedestalized stat sheet.

It’s In Our Hands

December is always regarded as a crucial month for teams because playoff-clinching scenarios typically begin around this time, but with the exception of practise squad member Landon Collins and current IR delegate Sterling Shepard, who were both part of the last team to do so in 2016, meaningful games for the Giants players as Christmas approaches are relatively unknown. However, on Monday morning, head coach Brian Daboll addressed the players with a simple message: “The season starts now.”

Following an extended Thanksgiving break, the Giants will prepare for four inter-divisional games against playoff rivals the Washington Commanders and NFC East leaders the Philadelphia Eagles, as well as games against the Minnesota Vikings and the Indianapolis Colts.

The key will be how they can get their stuttering roster back into the form that saw them pull off multiple upset wins. Whether this means solving the Barkley/offensive line issue, finding new reliable weapons for Daniel Jones (hello Odell Beckham Jr….), or relying on the imminently returning injured players such as Azeez Ojulari, Ben Brederson, and Daniel Bellinger, something needs to change, and time is of the essence.