The New York Giants have won six games in a row, their best streak since 2008. At 8–3, they remain within striking distance of the 10–1 Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East. The Giants feature a top-10 defense led by an aggressive, swarming pass rush. The offense runs through a two-time Super Bowl–winning quarterback and one of the game’s premier playmaking receivers. They should be one of the most hyped teams in the NFL, but after eking out another victory on Sunday — a 27–13 win over the now-0–12 Browns that was close until late in the fourth quarter — I’m finding it hard to get too excited about the Giants.
The win over Cleveland was New York’s most lopsided of the year, but it felt like one of the team’s worst performances. The 14-point margin of victory pushed New York’s overall point differential on the year to just 18; it came into Sunday’s game with seven wins and a whopping … four more points than its opponents. New York’s postseason odds sit at 72 percent, but even with a solid footing in their division and in the postseason race, the question still has to be asked: Are the Giants actually, you know, good? Well, there are two answers …
Yes, They’re Good
An increasingly dominant defense (ranked eighth per DVOA heading into Week 12) puts the Giants in a great position to win every week. We saw Denver use a similar equation last season en route to a Super Bowl win — and while New York isn’t at the same level as last year’s Broncos, the Giants only need to get hot during the playoffs. New York is giving up just 19.4 points per game (tied for sixth best in the league with Dallas) and surrendering just 5.1 yards per play, seventh in the NFL.
The Giants D might not be historically great, but it’s made a jump toward league-best recently. Olivier Vernon has a sack in each of his past four games, and Jason Pierre-Paul has racked up 5.5 sacks (3.0 on Sunday) and two forced fumbles in the past two weeks. On the inside, the disruptive group led by tackles Damon Harrison and Johnathan Hankins has anchored a Giants run defense that’s giving up just 3.5 yards per carry (fourth) and 89.1 yards per game (fifth). With a stout run defense and an improving pass rush, New York’s front has the ability to take over games, and we saw that on Sunday. Yeah, it was the Browns, but New York held Cleveland to just 58 yards rushing on 21 carries and sacked quarterback Josh McCown seven times.
The front seven also made two of the game’s most decisive plays. On the first, midway through the second quarter, Harrison hit running back Isaiah Crowell, forcing a fumble that the Giants recovered and which led to a 13-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Dwayne Harris two plays later. Then, early in the fourth quarter, Hankins blew past Cleveland guard Alvin Bailey, sacked McCown, and forced a fumble. The ball flew right into Pierre-Paul’s hands, who ran it back for a touchdown.
The Giants secondary has consistently made plays too. Before Sunday, New York was holding opposing quarterbacks to a 76.1 rating, fourth best in the league. After a rough rookie season, safety Landon Collins has five picks in the past five games and is emerging as a playmaking star, while cornerbacks Eli Apple and Janoris Jenkins have played well on the outside.
All in all, New York’s defense has caused a lot of problems for opposing offenses, and they’ve racked up 11 takeaways in the past five games.
Offensively, the Giants may not be the most efficient or technically sound group in the NFL, but they do have one thing that will always scare the hell out of opposing coaches: The ability to make the big play. When the ball is in Odell Beckham Jr.’s hands, he has the potential to score, no matter where he is on the field. We got a glimpse of that on Sunday when he took this short crosser 32 yards for a score.
No, They’re Not Good
The Giants have a middling offense, and they turn the ball over way too often. Manning is still a turnover machine (he’s thrown 10 picks and lost two fumbles), and his skill-position players have coughed up another seven fumbles. New York is 21st in scoring (21 points per game), tied for 17th in yards per play (5.4), and tied for 23rd in turnover differential (minus-5). Despite the presence of Beckham, the Giants are still a mediocre passing team: tied for 19th in yards per pass attempt (7.0), 12th in yards per game (256.5), tied for 10th in passing touchdowns (20), and 18th in passer rating (90.1).
Meanwhile, the run game is close to nonexistent: They average just 23 rushes a game (27th), 79.5 rushing yards per game (31st), and 3.4 yards per rush (30th), and they have just five rushing touchdowns (tied for 25th). Rashad Jennings (3.4 yards per carry on 115 rushes) is ostensibly their lead back, but Paul Perkins, Bobby Rainey, and Orleans Darkwa all get in on the action — and, well, none is very effective. Even against the Browns’ 30th-ranked run defense per DVOA, the Giants managed just 84 yards on 24 carries from their running backs; a 22-yard end-around by receiver Sterling Shepard represented the run game’s biggest play.
New York’s special teams are a mess as well. They came into this week ranked 28th per DVOA and didn’t do much to improve their standing, contributing a muffed-punt turnover and a missed extra point on Sunday.
With holes just about everywhere except on the defense, New York has had to sneak past teams in almost all of its wins this year. The win over the Browns was the Giants’ first of the season by more than a touchdown. Other wins have come by one point (a 20–19 win over the Cowboys in Week 1), three points (16–13 over New Orleans in Week 2), four points (27–23 over the Ravens in Week 6), seven points (17–10 over the Rams in Week 7), five points (28–23 over the Eagles in Week 9), one point (21–20 over Cincy in Week 10), and six points (22–16 over Chicago last week). In other words, the Giants are 8–3, but plenty of their wins could’ve gone the other way.
The Giants have owned the idea of “winning ugly” in 2016. Late in games, they’ve made the necessary plays to put teams away. They’ve converted big third and fourth downs. They’ve sacked opposing quarterbacks at timely moments, and they’ve scored on big plays right when they needed to. They’re not a classically dominant team, but neither were the 2007 Giants that toppled Tom Brady and the seemingly unbeatable Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, nor were the Giants who beat Brady and the Patriots again in 2012. New York might not look like a good team on paper this year, but the Giants have the same outlines as their championship-winning predecessors.
So, despite obvious holes across the offense and on special teams, they are, in fact, good because they have a few key ingredients to late-season success: a devastatingly effective pass rush and a big-play-capable passing attack. When you think of New York’s previous two Super Bowl–winning squads, does anything else even come to mind? The Giants might be a little lucky to be so well positioned for a playoff berth, and they may not be as good as their record suggests, but their monster pass rush and ability to strike downfield in key moments makes them capable of beating anyone. Just ask the Cowboys.