Two weeks ago, did you think we would be at this point? Did you think the New York Giants would not only have a shot at the division lead, but emerge as a possible favorite? Coming off losses to the Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons, I -- like most fans -- was downtrodden. Force yourself to wade through the muddy waters of sports media following a team loss. It's difficult to swallow.
Yet, here we are. We emerged at the other side. And I'm not talking about "we" in the way that English soccer fans talk as if they're members of the team. I'm talking about "we" as fans who had to endure the stark possibility that this could have been a lost season by Week 3.
With a quarter season behind us, we actually get a decent sample size to work with. We can study the Giants with somewhat of a clear data set and point to areas we can identify as positive and negative. After four weeks, we're getting to know just what this team is capable of achieving.
It's a little difficult to not start with the most impressive stat of the weekend and that would be the culmination of Odell Beckham Jr.'s first 16 games in the NFL. The wide-receiver collected two records this past week. His 115 receptions and 1,612 yards are the most by any player through their first 16 games. Though, Beckham is in his second-year, most will remember that he missed the first four games of 2014 with a lingering hamstring injury. He blew everyone out of the water last year with just 12 games, so it comes as no surprise that he would get a few places in the record books with a full season of games under his belt.
After a quarter of the season, the Giants have the best run defense in the league, allowing more than eight rushing yards less per game than Washington in second place. Their total rushing yardage allowed through four games stands at 279, which is also league-best despite the fact that two teams were on a bye week. This week, the Buffalo Bills rushed for just 55 yards, a huge reduction from their previous NFL-best average of 152.7 yards.
Just 4.4 percent of offensive drives so far have ended in a turnover, good for third-best in the NFL. If at any point this season, you think the Giants have it bad, just remember that right now the Indianapolis Colts' offensive drives end in a turnover a ridiculously high 23.4 percent of the time.
Tom Coughlin's Giants are now 8-1 against the AFC East in the regular season. The only loss was a 38-35 victory for the New England Patriots in the 2007 season finale, though the team made up for that a few weeks later in a game with a little bit more importance.
The most interesting aspect of the Win Probability chart this week is that it ranks Devon Kennard's interception as the most integral play to the Giants' victory over the Bills. With the game tied at 3-3, Tyrod Taylor tried a sideline pass to tight-end Charles Clay, but Kennard came up with the ball -- his first career interception. Pro-Football-Reference's model ranks this play as having a swing of 10.2 percent in favor of the Giants winning. No other moment shifted the balance of power as much as the interception, though Eli Manning's touchdown to Dwayne Harris two plays later did add a further 6.4 percent to the Giants' chances of victory.
Football Outsiders rank the Giants' remaining schedule as only the 28th most difficult, after assessing their first four games as the 6th most difficult. F.O.'s DVOA went live for the first time this week, after four weeks of non-adjusted evaluations. The Giants floated around the middle of the pack in the standard VOA rankings, but right now have jumped to 11th place after a strong performance and some competition adjustment. Nearly a top-10 team. I'll take it.
While their run defense is flourishing, the same cannot be said of their pass defense. The Giants are in the odd position of allowing the fewest rushing yardage and the most passing yardage. Their 316.3 average yards allowed per game is the worst in the league and doesn't show any signs of improving. Opposing quarterbacks have completed 124 of 182 attempts (68.2 percent). Those 124 completions are also the most against any defense through four weeks.
A large part of the Giants difficulties with the pass is the inability to generate pressure on the quarterback. New York has just five sacks this year, more than only the Miami Dolphins -- a team that just fired their head coach. This can partially be attributed to the absence of Jason Pierre-Paul, but even without him you would expect a Steve Spagnuolo defense to be a little better than this.
The Giants are allowing nearly 91.75 yards per game to opposing tight ends. Buffalo's Clay gained a staggering 111 yards on Sunday, more than his previous two games combined. Meanwhile, Giants TEs are generating about half of what the defense allows, at 45.5 yards per game. The ratio is wrong here, and needs fixing as the team will see Vernon Davis, Jason Witten, and Rob Gronkowski all before they reach the bye week.
It has been 380 days since Victor Cruz last scored a touchdown. His last TD came on a 26-yard pass against the Houston Texans in Week 3 of last year. It's a damn shame to see Cruz sidelined with a nagging calf injury. The fan favorite simply hasn't been able to see the field since he tore his patellar tendon in a shutout loss to the Eagles last year. It's possible we don't see a full-strength Cruz at all this year, and football as a sport is worse off for it.
The Downright Confusing
3 of the #Giants top 4 contracted players- JPP, Victor Cruz, and Will Beatty- havent played a down this season for the team.— Jason_OTC (@Jason_OTC) October 6, 2015
This is equal parts surprising and unsurprising. On the one hand, how could this happen? On the other, yeah, it's the Giants and injuries, so of course it happened. In fairness to the team, this isn't a situation where poor contract management has put them in a bind. There was no way to predict Pierre-Paul's accident, or Beatty's weight-lifting injury, or Cruz almost making it back only to suffer a setback a few days before his first game.
It's clear that Rashad Jennings is the starting running back for this team, but he isn't the guy who is seeing the field the most. Shane Vereen's 107 offensive snaps tops Jennings' 91 snaps through four weeks, with Andre Williams a distant third with 65 snaps. This is proportional to their value as a receiver. Jennings has nearly twice the rushing attempts as anyone else, but Vereen's 16 targets are double that of Jennings. Williams -- who appears to be an odd man out this year -- has been targeted once, and dropped that pass.