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Giants 13, Eagles 7: Five things we learned from the Giants’ first divisional win

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The New York Giants improved to 4-7 on the season and picked up their first divisional win over the stumblin’, fumblin’, yet also rumblin’, Philadelphia Eagles.

This was far from a “statement” win for the Giants as they edged out their division rivals to the tune of 13-7.

This was an ugly, sloppy, agonizing win that had as much in common with the Giants’ other three wins as it did with some of their losses this year. And while a win over the Eagles was a great backdrop for the retirement of Michael Strahan’s jersey, it’s unlikely that this game is much of an indicator regarding the rest of the Giants’ season.

But if this game can’t tell us whether the Giants are turning a corner or still terrible, what can it tell us?

The Giants stay ugly

When the Giants beat the Las Vegas Raiders I wrote that it was clear that their path to victory was to “win ugly”. In each of the Giants’ wins this year the combination of their defense playing well and other teams making unforced errors was the difference.

Thirteen points simply should not be enough to win in an NFL game in 2021, but yet it was, because the Giants won ugly.

As with the Panthers, Saints, and Raiders, the opposing team made some inexplicable decisions and unforced errors to keep the Giants’ offense in it. Between horribly timed penalties to wipe touchdowns off the board, and just bad defensive penalties to give the Giants second chances, New York was able to hang around. And with that, the defense was able to do enough to thwart the Eagles.

This isn’t sustainable, and no team that wants to be competitive should have to rely on their opponents stepping on rakes instead of stepping up.

But it was enough to give Giants’ fans something to cheer about.

Offensive improvement?

The first act in Freddie Kitchens’ audition to be named the Giant’s full-time offensive coordinator is in the books.

So, how did he do? I’d have to say that it was a decidedly mixed bag.

In absolute terms, the Giants’ offense continues to be abysmal.

Obviously, they only scored 13 points in the game, which shouldn’t be enough to win. They got three turnovers that left them with a chance to score (Hurts’ second interception was as time expired in the first half, so no possession for the Giants), yet go 0 points off of those turnovers.

The Giants had all of 194 yards passing and a completely anemic 70 yards on the ground. The Giants averaged 6.5 yards per attempt passing (much of which came after the catch, with 5.2 intended air yards), and a rushing average of 2.6 yards per carry. And even that average is a bit misleading as 46 of the Giants’ 70 rushing yards came on two plays. Outside of a 32-yard run by Saquon Barkley and a 14-yard run by Daniel Jones, the Giants averaged 0.96 yards per carry.

And yet ... As I said it was a mixed bag.

That’s because the Giants’ play-calling was both coherent and not entirely predictable. The play designs actually worked to help the Giants’ offensive players, at least a little bit.

The offensive line will almost certainly get positive grades from Pro Football Focus, but to me it felt as though the pass protection was consistently on the knife-edge of collapsing. However, Kitchens made a point of including Daniel Jones’ legs in the offense early. That slowed the Eagles’ pass rush down, making them honor read-option and scramble plays, just enough.

Likewise, he designed a number of plays to create quick, clear reads for Daniel Jones. One long pass to (I believe) Darius Slayton stands out, in particular, as he used Evan Engram as an obstacle to create an easy pass for Jones. Not only did Engram occupy a player in coverage, but his positioning slowed down the deep safety (Rodney McLeod), and kept him from making a play at the catch point.

The operation was far from perfect, with Jones making several overthrows — including one that the Giants were fortunate to not have go the other way, and another which forced Kenny Golladay to adjust to a pass at the extreme edge of his catch radius.

However, there were certainly some elements of the offense which we can say were improved.

What was Nick Sirianni thinking?

This is a Giants site, but I have to step back and address this from a non-partisan perspective as a football fan: I have no clue what Nick Siriani was thinking with this game.

I have absolutely no idea why he came out with the game plan to throw the ball. At one point the Eagles were throwing at a 2:1 rate despite getting great production on the ground and only being down 3 points. The running game has been the Eagles’ identity and for good reason — They have a mauling offensive line, good running backs, and a quarterback who can truly make the game 11-on-11. By the same token, Jalen Hurts isn’t an NFL passer and they have approximately 1 receiver.

Once Philly settled in and got back to their roots, there wasn’t much the Giants could do to slow them down. They had a 92-yard drive right before the half that could have ended in a touchdown on 2 different occasions (first being a Boston Scott run which was wiped out by a holding call, the second being a Greg Ward drop). They cost themselves 3 points (and potentially the game) by not trying to run the ball on the goal line and then taking the field goal.

Then, on their very next possession, the Eagles ran for 35 yards on 3 plays before going to the pass on third (and 4th) and 2. That sequence lead to the Giants’ only touchdown on New York’s next drive.

Even so, Philly finished the game with 33 carries for 208 yards (6.3 per carry) despite inexplicably throwing the ball as often as they did.

It’s good for the Giants, but I just don’t get it, and I know I’m not the only one.

It felt like Philly could have suffocated the Giants’ offense but never seemed to realize it.

Kudos to the special teams

It wasn’t a perfect outing by the Giants special teams — Graham Gano missed a 51-yarder and Riley Dixon shanked a punt at the end of the game.

However, I need to give some credit to the Giants’ special teams play for most of the game. They repeatedly forced Philly to return the ball, as opposed to just kicking it out of the back of the end zone, and covered well throughout the game. They were disciplined and did a good job of corralling the Eagles’ returners before they could do much damage. Those hidden yards that mostly get glossed over before or after commercial breaks were quietly huge in this game.

Considering that neither team did much in the way of offense, the Giants’ special teams helping their defense out with field position made their lives much easier. That field position battle is always important, and with the Eagles averaging just 18 yards on kick returns and 4.5 yards on punt returns, the Giants’ special teams helped set their defense up.

The Giants’ draft capital doesn’t take a hit ... Yet

Listen, someone had to go here.

Week 12 isn’t over yet, and the Washington Football Team still has to play. But so far it looks like the Chicago Bears and Giants coming away with a pair of pug fugly wins, hasn’t hurt the Giants’ draft capital.

The Giants are still mathematically in the hunt for the final Wild Card spot, but right now (as of this writing) they hold the sixth and seventh picks in the 2022 NFL draft. There’s still a lot of football left to be played and it’s certainly possible that the Giants will scrape together enough wins that John Mara will be able to tell himself that the team is on the right track.

That being said, we’re still in the position of picking in the Top-10 and we should probably be keeping an eye on draft slotting.