A few short weeks ago, the New York Giants found themselves at a dismal 1-7 with two blown fourth-quarter leads to division rivals. Now, the Giants are perched on top of the NFC East at 4-7 with all the confidence in the world. Unfortunately, New York just lost their starting quarterback to a hamstring injury. It’s still unknown how long the injury to Daniel Jones will persist, but I’m writing this article under the assumption that he’ll only miss the game against Seattle.
The next four games are crucial to the Giants’ once very unlikely playoff chances. They own the tiebreaker over the 4-7 Football Team because they beat them twice. The Eagles are currently a sputtering mess that may be looking for a new coach at the end of the year; they sit at 3-7-1. Dallas was turned into a turkey on Thanksgiving by The Football Team and they’re 3-8. The Cowboys are rather interesting because they’re the only NFC East team left on the schedule. The Giants will square off at MetLife against Dallas in week 17, but it’s necessary to analyze the next four games to see where the Giants may be at the end of the season.
The schedule is not great for New York. The Giants travel to Seattle to play the 8-3 Seahawks in week 13. Then they host the current 6-5 Arizona Cardinals in a game they hope to have Daniel Jones back healthy. The Giants square off against the now 8-3 Cleveland Browns at MetLife in a Week 15 battle. In Week 16, the Giants travel to Baltimore to play a presumably angry, and healthy, Baltimore Ravens team that is currently third in their division.
The Giants are entering this four-game stretch at 4-7 and their upcoming opponents’ records are 28-15. The combined record of the four teams New York has beaten is only 14-29-1 with Washington counted twice. The Giants can only play who is on their schedule. Since they’ve started hitting their stride, they’ve had easier matchups. They’ll be tested in the next four games against opponents that aren’t NFC East teams or the Cincinnati Bengals. Let’s rank the next four games and see which games are more winnable, and why.
1). Week 15: vs Cleveland Browns (8-3)
The Browns are a very beatable 8-3 team with a quarterback that is heavily protected by a potent rushing attack. Head coach Kevin Stefanski has done a very good job implementing the outside zone he learned from Gary Kubiak. The combination of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt is arguably the best one-two punch at the running back position. These are some of the reasons why Cleveland is first in rushing yards per game (161).
The addition of tackles Jack Conklin and rookie Jedrick Wills has assisted the rushing attack, and guard Wyatt Teller is having an All-Pro type of season. This heavy reliance on the rushing attack may work to the benefit of the Giants. New York’s defense ranks 5th in the league in rushing yards per game; they only allow 95.4. The presence of Dalvin Tomlinson, Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, and Blake Martinez in Patrick Graham’s system has halted opposing rushing games so far in the season. If this continues, it will force Baker Mayfield to throw the football.
The Browns rank 30th in pass yards per game this season, and Mayfield hasn’t looked great when he’s been asked to throw in those types of game scripts. The Giants’ heavy disguised zone defense should give the Browns offense some trouble. As for the Browns defense, blocking Myles Garrett will prove to be difficult, and Cleveland ranks 20th in passing yards allowed per game. They also rank 8th in rushing yards allowed per game, so the statistics say they’ve been solid against the run. With the way the Giants have been blocking lately, I believe they can take advantage of the Cleveland run defense and establish the line of scrimmage. It will be on the defense to slow down Chubb and Hunt; that should determine the winner of this game.
2). Week 14: vs Arizona Cardinals (6-5)
Arizona has a high-powered offense operated by second-year quarterback Kyler Murray. They rank 15th in passing yards per game, and 4th in rushing yards per game which is mostly due to Murray’s legs. Murray has 650 yards on the ground and 10 touchdowns through 12 weeks of football. He’s a true dual-threat, and very dangerous in space - but the Giants hardly run any man coverage, so their zone defense could help contain the electric playmaker.
Guarding DeAndre Hopkins will never be easy, but the Giants are more equipped to do so in 2020 than they have been in the past several years. The key to the Giants winning would be to keep Murray and the offense off the field and possess the football by establishing the run. Seattle did this by possessing the ball for 35 + minutes in their week 11 matchup. Seattle won that game 28-21 on Thursday Night Football.
Another key to defeating Murray is utilizing trap type of coverages and putting pressure on the young quarterback. Some swipe technique to the outside and slice over the middle against slot wide receiver Christian Kirk could help bait Murray into mistakes. It’ll be difficult to contain Murray and put effective pressure on with the lack of proven EDGE pass-rushing talent, but it’s possible - the Patriots just did it in Week 12. The shoulder injury could be bothering Murray as well.
Arizona’s defense has also been susceptible to the run. They give up 123 rushing yards per game, ranking 22nd, and 116 over the past three games against the Seahawks, Patriots, and Bills. The Cardinals rank 13th in passing yards per game as well. Patrick Peterson is still playing well, and Byron Murphy is a solid cornerback in the slot.
This game is being played in MetLife which could also help the Giants. It’s a 1:00 eastern game, and the Cardinals have been pretty bad in these situations this year. They just lost to New England in this time slot, they’ve lost to the Panthers earlier in the season, and they struggled, initially, against the Jets as well. The West Coast teams traveling east to play 1 p.m. EST games seem to struggle at times, and Arizona has shown that in 2020. It’s a winnable game, but not an easy one.
3). Week 16: at Baltimore Ravens (6-4)
The Ravens haven’t looked like their 2019 selves all season. It seems like the NFL has caught onto Lamar Jackson’s playmaking ability, albeit his talent still allows him to make incredible plays. He’s been limited throwing the football and the offense seems out of sync. They average 183 passing yards per game, which is second-worst only to the Jets. They’ve regressed as a unit, but still score 26 points per game (last year was a league-leading 31).
Similar to Kyler Murray, I trust that Patrick Graham wouldn’t put either of these quarterbacks in many situations where their legs will significantly burden the Giants. As of right now, at the end of Week 12, Baltimore ranks second in rushing yards per game, mostly because of Jackson. Rookie running back J.K. Dobbins seems to have finally established himself as the number one back in Baltimore which will only help this rushing attack.
Jackson hasn’t looked good as a passer all season. The Ravens receivers are underperforming along with the 2019 MVP. Tight end Mark Andrews has been inconsistent all year but had one of his better games against Tennessee before contracted COVID-19. He’s a big-bodied vertical threat who does real red zone damage.
The reason why I’m not overly confident about this game is the Ravens’ defense. They blitz more than anyone in the league, allow only 19 points per game (third-best), are top 10 in passing yards allowed, and are middle of the pack in rushing yards allowed. The secondary is one of the best in the NFL, but my main worry is the pass rushers and Calais Campbell.
The defense is different with a healthy Campbell; the reason their rush defense is middle of the pack and not top 5 is that they’ve allowed 153 rushing yards per game without the star defensive lineman. He suffered a calf injury in week 9 and contracted COVID-19. If he’s healthy against the Giants, then New York will have trouble establishing the run in Baltimore. This game looks much better now than it did at the beginning of the season, but the Giants will have to play mistake-free, complementary football, against a team that will be trying to get right before a playoff push.
4). Week 13: vs Seattle Seahawks (8-3)
It’s looking highly unlikely that Daniel Jones will be available for this game, and no offense to Colt McCoy...but this team is quite different without Mr. Dimes. The rushing threat on the shotgun run is virtually eliminated, the arm talent is completely different, and the vertical element to the offense isn’t as potent. It’s a shame, too - the Giants with a healthy Daniel Jones could have pulled this game off, but it’s not looking great.
I also have concerns about Russell Wilson. Sure, he hasn’t been statistically great in the last few games, but he’s still Russell Wilson. If the Giants use too much inverted Cover-2/Tampa-2 robber, I can see Wilson hitting DK Metcalf or Tyler Lockett on a deep post for a huge play. The defense and special teams are going to have to play mistake-free football and seize opportunities when they materialize.
Seattle’s defense has surrendered the most passing yards in the league and has been a joke most of the year, but they’re coming along. EDGE rusher Carlos Dunlap had to have an MRI and may not be available for the game. Safety Jamal Adams and cornerback Shaquell Griffin are now healthy which does provide relief to the defense. A very good game plan, and an opportunistic squad, can squeak out a miracle here, but this game could also get out of hand if the Giants’ offense makes mistakes and continues to go three and out.