The New York Giants head toward the halfway point of the season 4-3 and leading the very mediocre NFC East. With that in mind, let's take a look at this week's "Five things I think I think" about the Giants.
I think you shouldn't expect too much from Jason Pierre-Paul
If you are expecting Jason Pierre-Paul to immediately be the answer to the Giants' pass rush woes -- or even their struggling run defense -- you are going to be sorely disappointed.
Let's talk about the reality of the situation. Even if Giants doctors clear JPP to play, and a decision reportedly could come today, the two sides have to work out a contract. That won't be easy, especially considering the obvious reality that JPP and the Giants have far different objectives. There is no chance JPP gets the full $14.8 million franchise tag tender, and probably little chance to gets the pro-rated $8.73 million left on the tender, but you can bet he wants every penny he can squeeze from the Giants. The organization, rightly, reportedly wants a low guaranteed figure with performance-based incentives.
If and when a deal is struck, and one has to be struck by Nov. 17 under league rules governing players given a franchise tag tender, what would the Giants be getting for their money?
Pierre-Paul has a permanently disfigured and damaged right hand, with extensive damaged beyond the amputated finger reportedly having occurred. How will that impact his ability, and willingness, to grapple with 320-pound linemen, to tackle, to bat down passes? What sort of shape is he in? He has not been involved in a football practice since the end of the 2014 season, and his training has obviously been impacted by the accident. There were reports that, unable to lift weight for a lengthy period, Pierre-Paul lost significant weight. Is be still big enough, and strong enough, to anchor against the run? How long will it take him to master, or at least learn enough of Steve Spagnuolo's defensive scheme, that the Giants would be comfortable he understands the calls, and his assignments?
Most likely, the Giants are hoping that they can hang in the playoff race and that over the final few weeks -- maybe the final quarter of the season -- Pierre-Paul can make a few plays that help push them over the top in the NFC East. Expecting much more than that seems foolish.
I think the most important stat for the Giants right now is +9
We spend so much time focused on the inadequacies of the Giants' roster, we sometimes don't notice the things they are doing really well. One thing the Giants are doing exceptionally well -- better than anyone in the league, in fact -- is winning the turnover battle. The Giants are a league-best +9 in takeaway/giveaway ratio after seven games. They have 15 takeaways, which is third in the league. They have only six giveaways, and only the Green Bay Packers (four) and New England Patriots (three) have fewer.
There is a clear formula for the Giants to win. They have deficiencies in some areas, especially on defense, so they simply have to play as mistake-free as possible (both turnovers and penalties), then they have to create turnovers from their opponents and take advantage when they get them. They also have to get solid work from their special teams.
I think problems in run defense go beyond one player
Complaining about defensive tackle Markus Kuhn even being on the roster is in vogue among Giants fans. Kuhn is also an easy scapegoat for fans looking for someone, or something, to blame for the defense's inability to stop the run in recent weeks. Saying the problems against the run are all Kuhn's fault, though, is a massive over-simplification.
This is not a defense of Kuhn. To be honest, I don't know what the Giants' fascination with Kuhn is or why he plays as much as he does. He is a completely ordinary defensive tackle, at best. While not blameless, though, Kuhn is not entirely at fault for the porous run defense.
Kuhn did play Week 1, when the Giant held Dallas to 80 yards rushing. He then missed three weeks with a knee injury and it is true that when he returned the Giants were No. 1 in the league against the run, giving up 69.8 yards per game. The Giants have given up more than 100 yards, including 233 Sunday against Dallas, in each of the three games since Kuhn has been back. They are now 21st in the league, giving up 113.4 yards per game. For those who love the Pro Football Focus grades, Kuhn's run defense grade is -3.5, with a -1.3 vs. Dallas on Sunday being his worst individual effort. To be honest, that's not terrible when you are lined up against Zack Martin.
Anyway, if you read Tom Coughlin's remarks on Monday about the run defense, you understand that the problems are widespread. There are, at times, problems at the point of attack with the defensive tackles, including Kuhn. There have been problems setting the edge. There have been missed assignments. Against Dallas there were times when the Giants failed to recognize what the Cowboys were running. With Jayron Hosley and Trevin Wade playing in place of Prince Amukamara and Trumaine McBride in the secondary, the run support isn't the same and the tackling from those two has been awful. There are no dynamic playmakers, with only Kerry Wynn (four) having more than two tackles for loss. Linebackers J.T. Thomas and Jon Beason don't have a single tackle for loss this season.
As Coughlin said Monday, "There's a bunch of reasons why" the run defense has been non-existent.
"It's something we need to address and it just comes down to everybody doing their job and making plays," said linebacker Devon Kennard. "I think it was definitely just an issue with fits-wise and it starts with everybody, the d-line, linebackers and secondary. I think we can all do a better job in getting back to the basics on stopping the run."
What we know for sure is that Kennard is correct.
I think Sunday's game is a difficult one for the Giants
The Giants travel to face the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Visits to New Orleans are supposed to be fun, but they have been anything but that for the Giants in recent years. The last two times the Giants have gone to New Orleans, they have come home embarrassed. In 2011, the Giants lost to New Orleans, 49-24. In 2009, the Saints pounded the Giants, 48-27.
The Saints, much like the Giants, are a team on the rebound from an awful start. New Orleans began the season 0-3 but has won three of four, including victories the past two weeks over the Atlanta Falcons and Indianapolis Colts.
We will get into deeper analysis of the matchup later in the week, but once again the Giants enter a week where the deck appears to be stacked against them. The more you watch this team, though, the more you wonder if they sort of like it that way.
I think the Giants might be special on special teams
Before I even get into the "why" of that statement, I think that even considering that possibility is pretty amazing with how up-and-down the Giants have been on special teams in recent years. Fact is, though, knowing they cold be defensively challenged in 2015 the Giants went to extraordinary lengths to beef up their special teams this season. That work is paying off.
If you want to quibble over the $17.5 million contract the Giants gave Dwayne Harris, fine. If you aren't glad Harris is a Giant, though, you must be a Dallas Cowboys fan. Harris' 100-yard kickoff return won the Giants a game Sunday. It was the fourth-longest in the league this year, and the Giants first kickoff return TD since David Wilson's 97-yarder in 2012. Harris leads the NFL with an average of 36.0 yards per kickoff return.
Josh Brown has now made 19 straight field goals, breaking his club record of 17 straight. Brad Wing has been a huge upgrade at punter over Steve Weatherford. He leads the league with 16 punts downed inside the 20-yard line, and is sixth in the league with 45.7 percent of his punts downed inside the 20. Craig Dahl is third in the league with seven special teams tackles. Newly-acquired players like Nikita Whitlock, Geremy Davis and Myles White have contributed on special teams. Orleans Darkwa has four tackles and a huge fumble recovery. Rashad Jennings has a blocked punt.
I have said before that there is a formula for the Giants to win games. One of the things it includes is winning on special teams. So far this season, the Giants have done that.