Giants Report: Pre-playoff thoughts

January 5, 2023

With apologies to Charles Dickens, it really was ‘the best of time, the worst of times …’

On Sunday, the Giants routed Indianapolis 38-10 to clinch their first playoff berth in 6 years and just the 2nd in the past 11 seasons. Then we all sat down to enjoy what should have been an epic AFC match-up between the Bills and Bengals on Monday night only to have real life rear its ugly head when Bills’ S Damar Hamlin suffered a potentially life-threatening health scare after making what appeared to be a routine tackle early in the game. In fact, the whole league has been on edge pretty much all week, but with this morning’s really encouraging news on Hamlin’s progress thought are starting to return to the business at hand.

For the Giants, of course, returning to the business at hand means getting ready for the playoffs. What makes the Giants return to the playoffs so sweet is that nobody predicted anything close to it prior to the season. Oh, wait a minute! We did! In fact, to be honest, we really weren’t predicting that the Giants would actually make the playoffs in large part because we assumed that teams like Green Bay, Tampa Bay and the LA Rams would easily win their respective divisions leaving as many as a half dozen or so teams fighting for the three wild card spots. What we did predict was that the Giants would win 9-10 games and within any luck at least would be in the wild card mix.

And we made that prediction, not because we are smarter than anybody else or that we were simply playing at being eternal optimists, but because we never bought into the Glennon/Fromm Kool-Aid. No question the Giants were awful, dismal, dreadful over the final 6 games of the 2021 season, but they were awful, dismal, dreadful because their quarterbacking with Mike Glennon and/or Jake Fromm was beyond awful, dismal, dreadful. The reality was that in the 22 games prior to Daniel Jones being injured last year the Giants were essentially a .500 team. And that was largely playing one of the toughest schedules in the league. Its not rocket science; its just paying attention.

Speaking of paying attention, I have received several missives this week in which the correspondent said something along the lines that they ‘hoped the Giants wouldn’t do anything rash this off-season as they were still on year one of the rebuild.’ Our response is some thing along the lines of’ hey man you ain’t rebuilding when you have 9 wins and you are in the playoffs. As I have said before the Giants aren’t rebuilding, they’re competing. And they are competing because they have slowly been accumulated a solid base of good young players that can make plays. In fact, one can make a pretty good case that the ‘rebuild’ actually started as early as 2017 and has continued since, albeit with plenty of ups and downs along the way. But we are almost there and we are competing.

Obviously, one of the key pieces going forward is QB and what happens with Daniel Jones who is set to become a free agent this off-season. You can probably take it to the bank, that he’ll be back next year. Clue #1 – head coach Brian Daboll sent him out for a curtain call before pulling him from Sunday’s win over the Colts. and then left it up to #8 to decide whether the team would get an extra day off this week. You don’t do that if you don’t really want the guy. Several correspondents have asked ‘do you really want to extend a QB who only threw for 3,200 yards or whatever or only has 15 TD passes?’ And in an antiseptic world you probably wouldn’t. But in the NFL, teams don’t sign players as a ‘reward’ for what they have done in the past. They resign players based on what they think they can do in the future. And my suspicion is that the Giants believe that Jones can be a special player who can help them win games. Certainly, if I were an NFL OC like Mike Kafka, I’d be almost drooling at the idea of crafting an offense with Jones’ athleticism and arm talent and Saquon’s explosiveness, IF, and its still a big IF, the Giants could in fact find a couple or three decent receivers this off-season. Talk about a potential match-up problem for the other guys.

At the same time, several other readers have suggested that resigning Jones would all depend on the details. Maybe, but highly unlikely. If, in fact, the Giants really want Jones they’ll get something done. They’ll put some numbers on the table, Jones’ people will respond with some numbers of their own and they’ll agree on something in the middle, probably in the $35M range over 5 years, but with cap hits in the low 20s for the first couple of years and higher later on when the cap is also higher. And, if for some reason, Jones’ people hold out for more, the Giants always have the franchise tag as something of a guardrail. But it will get done. Because that’s the way the NFL generally works.

Several people have also asked what we think the Giants biggest off-season needs are. And we think that the two things that the Giants will be most interested in getting are 1) more chunk plays on offense and 2) more turnovers on defense. The Giants, in fact, are 32nd and dead last in the NFL in 20-plus yard receptions in the passing game and desperately need more speed at the receiver positions. They are also 25th in the league in total turnovers and tied for 31st (and again last) in interceptions with just 5. And you get more TOs with more pressure on the opponents, especially on the QB, and with tighter coverage.

And while we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, the draft could actually be shaping up pretty well for the Giants as, at least at this time, the two deepest position appear to be WR and CB. There could be, for example, as many as half a dozen pretty good WR prospects available to the Giants such as Jaxon Smith-Njigba of Ohio State, Tennessee’s Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman, Rashee Rice of SMU, Josh Downs of North Carolina and Boston College’s Zay Flowers when they make their opening round pick. In fact, at appears there are going to be pretty good WRs available right thru the first three rounds and even into the early 3rd that the Giants could conceivably pass on a receiver if there was a player they really liked still on the board. Meanwhile, CB does not appear as if it will go quite as deep, but again there could be as many as a half dozen quality cover corners in the mix in the early 20s, as well as several with early starting ability in the 50s. Of course, there are other areas the Giants will almost assuredly want to upgrade such as ILB and C/G, but as a general rule those positions don’t impact games the way receivers, corners and pass rushers do.

Truth be told though we are pretty focused on the here and now these days. And while it is not going to be easy, we think the Giants will have a real chance at an upset, if as it looks to day, they end up playing at Minnesota in the opening round of the playoffs as the Vikings have just looked a little wobbly of late.  In particular, the Vikings’ 31st-ranked defense just isn’t very good. And while the Giants receiver corps still needs a major grade, their current group of Slayton-Hodgins-James is at least representative. They all have some skill meaning that one of the three – usually James – gets to work against a #3 corner.

In the meantime, there are several random thoughts we thought we’d share:

1) Which is actually more of a trivia question: quickly, who is the only Giants CB to have intercepted a pass this fall? (answer below)

2) Our favorite play of the year: Sunday when Giants’ DT Dex Lawrence basically picked up Colts OG Quentin Nelson, walked him back into the QB, and deposited both on the ground for a sack! For starters, it was simply a great play by Lawrence, but nothing has annoyed us more the past few years than people who make the case that the selection of Saquon Barkley with the 2nd pick overall in 2018 was the dumbest pick in Giants’ history. Sure he was the best player in the draft, but the Giants had too many needs at the time to take a RB, or at least so the argument went, and they should have taken Nelson instead as he was of greater positional need. Nobody here is going to that Nelson hasn’t been a terrific player for the Colts, but there is a reason that no interior offensive lineman has been selected with a top 5 pick since the mid-1970s.

3) Our second favorite play from Sunday was when Daboll took Jones out of the game to a well-deserved standing ovation from the home crowd. Which was all really cool, but what I thought was most fascinating was the response Jones received from his teammates who were jumping around as much as the fans. Folks, he’s your team leader. Get used to it!

4) Meanwhile, the big question for this week is do the Giants rest any or all of their starters? The Giants haven’t in fact confirmed either way, however, Daboll probably told us everything we needed to know when he gave the team that extra day off. The truth is there probably is no right answer here, but the fact that the Giants have so many guys that are either banged up in one way or another – Leo Williams, Adoree Jackson, Az Ojulari, Evan Neal, Jon Feliciano, and Xavier McKinney – or just needing a break because of all the minutes they have played this year – Saquon Barkley, Dex Lawrence and Julian Love – or just too valuable to lose to injury heading into the playoffs – Jones and Thibo – that it just seems to make far more sense to give all those guys an extra week off.

5) Interesting stat of the week … While we note that the Giants main goal this off-season will be to see if they can get some more big plays in the passing game, WR Darius Slayton is actually 6th in the league with an average reception of 15.7 yards per. Who knew!

6) And finally the answer to our trivia question: hands up every one who guessed Rodarius Williams