Welcome to this rare viewing of Nitpick A Victory, which replaces (for one week) the ever-unpopular Bemoan Another Loss.
This episode comes to you courtesy of Giants Angst, the company that promises to keep you engaged and enraged for an entire NFL season.
The Giants do not do the impossible, but sometimes they come close. Often – far too often – this involves devolving during the course of four quarters until winning becomes losing and everyone is left aghast at yet another failure to launch.
The Giants did it again on Sunday, in reverse. Their three interceptions and two fumble recoveries, plus no interceptions or lost fumbles of their own, gave then a turnover differential of plus-5 – their best differential in a game in more than six years. Teams with a plus-five turnover differential win about 96 percent of the time. The Giants did win, albeit in narrow and harrowing fashion, securing a 23-20 victory only after nearly allowing a 20-3 halftime lead to evaporate. Getting outscored 17-3 in the second half is no way to apply vice-grips and this almost slipped away.
The rushing attack produced a season-high 166 yards. Daniel Jones, for only the second time in 21 NFL starts, did not turn the ball over. The Giants owned a time of possession advantage of nearly 13 minutes. They ran 74 offensive plays, compared with 50 for Washington. These should all be indicators of a comfortable Giants victory and yet they needed two interceptions of Alex Smith in the final 2:18 to stave off a collapse. Still, a starving fisherman does not throw back a minnow caught in the net.
Just as first-year head coach Joe Judge steadfastly breaks down all these losses, sifting for signs of progress, so too will he pick apart every snap in this victory to determine why his team is always so close, so often.
This is extremely promising because it shows Judge has instilled a fighting spirit. This is alarming because it reveals the talent and experience discrepancy the Giants take to the field on a weekly basis. If they play about as well as they can, against an opponent at their level, and cannot maintain a healthy margin once they build it, fasten your seatbelts for more of these harrowing endings in the months to come.
More that came out of victory No. 2 this season for the Giants:
— Technically, the Giants at 2-7 remain in last place in the NFL East, as they lost to the Cowboys (also 2-7) in Week 5. Washington (2-6) is in second place because it already had its bye and has a higher winning percentage (.250) than the Giants and Cowboys (both at .222). The Eagles (3-4-1) are alone at the top with what no one should describe as a showdown with the Giants looming. If the Giants get some payback for their brutal meltdown loss in Philadelphia they are in serious contention (Lord help us) in the NFL’s worst division. Make of this what you will. Judge, at least publicly, is not making much of this and he promises not to make much of this in private, either. “Throw the record away, it’s irrelevant,” Judge said. “It’s going to be a big game for us no matter who we play, especially with Philadelphia coming in. The record is completely irrelevant this game. I’m not posting in front of my team what the record is for the season, to be completely honest, here right now. That’s the last thing we should care about. We have to worry about day by day and week by week making constant improvement as a team and moving in the right direction. I see that, I’m pleased with that. I love the way these guys come to work. I love the way they fight for each other on Sundays. But I don’t care what the record is on any year. The fact that we’re playing Philadelphia is a division game, it’s obviously a big game for us.”
— This line dance is something different. Center Nick Gates and guards Kevin Zeitler and Shane Lemieux played all 74 offensive snaps at FedEx Field. Andrew Thomas played 68 snaps at left tackle and Cam Fleming played 64 snaps at right tackle. Matt Peart played 24 snaps, some at left tackle and some at right tackle. The coaching staff is viewing this as having three tackles for two spots and they are going to continue to rotate there. When Will Hernandez comes off the reserve/COVID-19 list (most likely any day now) he is expected to return to his starting role at left guard. This does not mean a permanent spot on the bench awaits Lemieux. Judge says he believes he has three guards for two spots and will rotate there as well. This could get funky down the stretch, but if it keeps players fresher, does not mess with continuity and Judge gets to see and evaluate more players, why not?
— Run the ball: The Giants did it against Washington. Stop the run: The Giants did it as well. They allowed only 37 rushing yards, the lowest total in more than seven years.
— Judge got two for the price of one by telling Golden Tate to stay home and using rookie Austin Mack in his place. Judge got his message across to the team – selfishness of any kind will not be tolerated – and he saw Mack get down the field for a 50-yard reception, the longest for the Giants this season, and catch four passes for 72 yards. Just like that, there is another option on offense. Mack was a steady secondary target at Ohio State and never looked overmatched when he arrived as an undrafted free agent. Tate, presumably, returns this week and it will be interesting to see how the flow goes at wide receiver.
— Blake Martinez leads the NFL with 92 tackles. He is on pace for 164 tackles, which would be a career high – he had 149 tackles for the Packers last season. The knock on Martinez in Green Bay was he did not make enough impactful plays, that too many of his tackles came a few yards off the line of scrimmage. Martinez maintains that was the role he was assigned in that defense, to be a clean-up man. Martinez is in perfect sync with Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and at this point looks to be an inspired signing by general manager Dave Gettleman.
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