Same Bat-time. Same Bat-station. The New York Giants are 3-2 ad riding a three-game winning streak entering a Week 6 prime time game at Lincoln Financial Field vs. the rival Philadelphia Eagles. Exactly the same scenario that unfolded a season. Is it really the same, though?
What happened in 2014 was disastrous for the Giants. The game in Philly ended up an embarrassing 27-0 loss, began a season-destroying seven-game losing streak, and was the last time we have seen Victor Cruz with a football uniform on.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin believes this 3-2 Giants team is not likely to meet the same fate as the down-trodden 2014 Giants. Why?
"Well, the grit, the way in which we play, the energy that is spent, the scrappiness, the will, the ability seemingly to have people miss games and others kind of step up and help us win. So those would be the things right off the top of my head," Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said on Monday. "Last night, every guy that was dressed had to make a contribution and they did. (Geremy) Davis, look at the catch he made, a 16-yarder on third and one. And that was a critical part. Myles (White) is out there running around and gave a good performance and accounted for himself. Will Tye played well. These guys are coming up with some games that are helping us."
Is Coughlin right? Look, no one has any idea what will happen to the Giants over the next 11 games. No one knows if the Giants will win Monday night in Philly. No one knows if this team is headed to the playoffs. No one knows if those two unfathomable losses to start the season will end up haunting them.
The only thing we know is that there are reasons to be optimistic. Here are five of them.
The run defense is better
If you are going to build a quality defense you have to have SOMETHING to hang your hat on -- whether that be run defense, pass defense or pass rush. The 2014 Giants really had none of the above, especially when it comes to run defense. In 2014, the Giants gave up 100 or more yards rushing 11 times, including 203 in their Week 6 loss to the Eagles and the ridiculous total of 350 yards to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 10.
This season, the Giants have given up more than 100 yards just once, and that was on Sunday night against the San Francisco 49ers without five key players -- linebackers Devon Kennard, Jon Beason and Jonathan Casillas, and defensive ends Robert Ayers and George Selvie. The Giants are still figuring out how to rush the passer and how to defend the middle of the field against the pass, but they have been able to hang their hat on the quality of their run defense.
Solid run defense is a huge factor in the NFC East, especially as late-season weather becomes more and more of a factor. If they can continue to do that -- and if they can get some of the aforementioned players back on the field they should be able to -- that gives them an opportunity to figure the other things out.
The roster is deeper and more flexible
The Giants won Sunday night's game with Geremy Davis, Dwayne Harris and Myles White at wide receiver for most of the final drive. They got a big contribution from undrafted rookie free agent tight end Will Tye. They have a trio of running backs. Harris is giving them some good play at receiver. They are getting good enough work from six offensive linemen. On defense, they may not be getting a ton of pass rush, but they are getting contributions from all 10 defensive linemen on the roster. Nikita Whitlock plays fullback and defensive tackle. They are getting something from all six linebackers on the roster. Guys like Jayron Hosley, Trevin Wade and Craig Dahl have been helpful.
The Giants, obviously, are better with guys like Devon Kennard, Jon Beason, Odell Beckham, Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle playing. During this recent streak, though, other players have stepped up when needed.
The special teams aren't a liability
Brad Wing has been a revelation as the Giants' punter. It's amazing how much better punt coverage is, and how much different field position is, when the ball is consistently punted where it is supposed to go with good hang time. Dwayne Harris is sixth in the league among punt returners with at least 10 returns, averaging 9.1 yards per return. Harris and Shane Vereen have combined to average 23.3 yards on kickoff returns. Josh Brown is 13-of-13 on field goals.
There was one breakdown against Washington, a touchdown allowed on a kickoff return. Otherwise, coverage has been solid with players swarming to the ball.
A little bit like run defense, solid special teams play is something a team can hang its hat on. Thus far in 2015, the Giants have been able to do that. Barring key injuries, that should continue.
The Eagles and Cowboys aren't as good
Face it, the quality of the competition in the NFC East factors into optimism that 2015 could be the year the Giants break their three-year playoff drought. The Giants are fortunate that their 0-2 start didn't leave them buried.
The Cowboys (2-3) are without the injured Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. Bryant might be back in a couple of weeks, maybe even for the Week 7 game against the Giants. Romo, though, is out for a while. The Cowboys are now turning the quarterback job over to journeyman Matt Cassel. With DeMarco Murray in Philly, the Cowboys have gone from averaging 147.1 yards per game (second in the league) and 4.6 yards per rush to 106.2 yards per game (19th) and 4.1 yards per carry.
The Eagles (2-3) are coming off a big 39-17 victory over the New Orleans Saints. They will enter Monday feeling good about themselves, but it's hard to be confident that one big victory over a bad 1-4 New Orleans team has fixed all of the problems the Eagles had.
Dallas won 12 games a year ago and the Eagles won 10. It's hard to imagine two double-digit win teams in the division this time around. There might not even be one. There was an obvious gap from the Cowboys and Eagles to the Giants a year ago. This year, I don't believe that to be the case.
This team should get better
The Giants are hardly a finished product. They should get better, provided they don't suffer catastrophic injuries to key players.
Cruz and offensive lineman Will Beatty should return at some point, hopefully making an already potent offense whole. Maybe Jason Pierre-Paul will be back at some point, and if he can give the Giants anything at all in terms of rushing the passer they will certainly take it.
There are also a number of emerging young players who should continue to get better. First-round pick Ereck Flowers doesn't look pretty, and his Pro Football Focus scores are ugly, but he isn't overmatched, and he should get better. So should second- and third-round picks Landon Collins and Owamagbe Odighizuwa. Uani 'Unga flies around and shows a ton of energy. Experience can only help him. Jay Bromley is beginning to justify his 2014 third-round selection. Weston Richburg is becoming a quality center. Kennard is en route to being the Giants' best linebacker since Jessie Armstead, if he isn't that already.
They have issues to fix. On offense, like the inconsistent run game and the red zone struggles need attention. On defense, the pass rush and the coverage in the middle of the field need help.
On both sides of the ball, though, you have to think that improving youngsters and returning veterans offer hope that those areas can be improved.