The New York Giants were not expected to come back to go to Denver and win Sunday night.
The best most of us hoped for what a close loss highlighting a gritty performance that would bode well for their future. Nobody expected the Giants to shut down Denver’s dominant running game or actually put up points on their feared defense — not with a reshuffled offensive line and three of their four receivers being undrafted free agents from the last two years.
But win the Giants did.
With the Denver defense looming, the Giants (once again) reshuffled their offensive line, moving Justin Pugh to right guard and playing John Jerry at left guard. Ereck Flowers and D.J. Fluker remained at left tackle and right guard respectively, while Brett Jones started at center for the injured Weston Richburg.
Amazingly the offensive line held up well. Manning was sacked three times, but those were coverage sacks as the Giants severely depleted receiving corps was unable to uncover against Denver’s formidable secondary. They also paved the way for the Giants to rack up an incredible 148 rushing yards (on 31 attempts) against the top rush defense in the NFL.
Most of the load was carried by Orleans Darkwa, who ran the ball 21 times for 117 yards (5.6 yards per carry). His YPC total is a bit misleading, and PFF notes that he gained 3 or fewer yards on 15 of his 21 carries. Against Denver’s run defense that shouldn’t be terribly surprising, but it does serve to highlight his big 47 yard run, as well as the 19-yard and 15-yard (from the Giants’ 1 yard line) 4th quarter runs he had to put the game away.
Wayne Gallman carried the ball nine times for 27 yards. He wasn’t able to use his nasty jump cut to spring any runs, but he did run hard and consistently fought to finish runs.
- Eli Manning did enough to keep the ball moving with just 11 completions (on 19 attempts) for 128 yards and a touchdown. This wasn’t a fantastic statistical day for Manning, but he got the ball out quickly and kept drives alive in crucial moments. His completion percentage (and total yardage) was hampered by a few drops by his young receiving corps.
- Evan Engram was, by far, the Giants’ leading receiver with five catches for 82 yards and a touchdown. He showed off his speed by surprising Denver linebakers and turning a short completion up-field for a 26-yard gain. He was earned an 82.8 grade from Pro Football Focus, who note that his 3.9 yards per route run were the most by a tight end this week (pending Monday Night Football).
- With Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, and Dwayne Harris gone for the season, as well as Paul Perkins and Sterling Shepard out for the game, Manning did a tremendous job of spreading the ball around. He completed the ball to six different receivers, targeting eight over the course of the game. If you were open, Eli was looking for you.
- Eli Apple got benched to start the Giants’ game against the Los Angeles Chargers, and hadn’t played well at times this year. But Sunday night he showed why the Giants made him a top-10 pick of the 2016 draft. Apple responded to the controversy surround the team this week and had a career day.
Per PFF, Apple was targeted 10 times in coverage, giving up just 38 yards receiving. He had a pass defensed as well as three coverage stops. Apple has all the tools to be an elite cornerback, and this game showed it.
CB Eli Apple in coverage vs. DEN:— Ryan Smith (@PFF_Smith) October 16, 2017
10 targets, 5 receptions, 38 yards
1 PD, 0 TD
59.6 passer rating pic.twitter.com/P9RFeTxIbc
Apple was the Giants’ highest graded player at 86.9 and got their “game ball”.
- Landon Collins was techincally a “game time decision” heading in to Sunday night’s game, but (of course) he played. His injury (and probably Denver’s altitude) kept him off the field at times, but when Collins was on the field he played well.
Per PFF, Collins wasn’t targeted once in coverage (on 35 coverage snaps), but he still came away with an interception. When Trevor Siemian looked in Collins’ area of the field he had a passer rating of 39.6, and Collins even helped out with some major pressure as a blitzer.
Collins’ fellow starting safety, Darian Thompson, had a very solid game and was the fifth-highest rated player with an 84.1 grade. He finished the game with 4 tackles, and his technique is noticeably improved over the last two weeks.
- Jason Pierre-Paul was a beast this week, pure and simple. The injury to Olivier Vernon and the thin air in Denver clearly on their minds, the Giants features much more of a defensive line rotation than in previous weeks. However, JPP was still able to notch four tackles, three sacks, and a forced fumble. PFF graded him at 84.1 for his efforts, which included 7 total pressures (3 sacks, 4 hurries).
JPP's third sack of the game. pic.twitter.com/oXzaubmT8P— SaquonSZN Ethan (@EthanGSN) October 16, 2017
- The duo of Damon Harrison and Dalvin Tomlinson once again proved to be formidable. Not only were the Broncos unable to get much of anything going in the run game (totaling 47 yards on 16 runs, 2.9ypc), but both tackles were able to push the pocket and get pressure on the quarterback. Tomlinson opened the game by absolutely destroying the Broncos left guard, while Harrison helped to keep the Broncos off the board with a huge 3rd quarter sack. For once, Tomlinson didn’t make PFF’s top-5 grades for the Giants, but Harrison was their 3rd highest rated Giant at 84.3. Harrison’s power, athleticism and hustle were on display this game, with plays like this:
Damon Harrison is a bad man #SnacksSZN pic.twitter.com/Mo7hJ8OXhf— SaquonSZN Ethan (@EthanGSN) October 16, 2017
- Finally we have Janoris Jenkins. A rough first half that saw Jackrabbit give up more receptions and yards to Damaryius Thomas than to Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, Alshon Jeffry, and Mike Evans. However, he made Denver pay for targeting him and he returned an interception for a touchdown as well as getting a big forced fumble on Thomas on an attempted fourth down conversion. He might not have had his customarily sterling game from beginning to end, but he definitely came through when the Giants needed it.
- Engram played 38 snaps (70 percent) and Rhett Ellison 35 (65 percent) as the Giants relied more heavily on ‘12’ personnel — two tight ends, two wide receivers, one running back. Jerell Adams played 11 snaps and Matt LaCosse, active for the first time, was on the field for nine plays.
- Darian Thompson (81 snaps) was the only Giants’ defender on the field for every play.
- Landon Collins played 52 snaps (64 percent) as the Giants tried to nurse him through with his injured ankle. Andrew Adams played 16 snaps and Nat Berhe 13.
- Slot corner Donte Deayon (39 snaps, 48 percent) played far more than might have been anticipated in his first regular-season game. Ross Cockrell played 34 snaps.
- Rookie defensive end Avery Moss played 42 snaps (52 percent) with the Broncos throwing the ball 54 times.