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‘Things I think’ after Giants defeat Raiders for third victory of the season

Giants ride their running game, defense to victory over Las Vegas

Las Vegas Raiders v New York Giants
The Giants celebrate as Leonard Williams recovers a fumble to seal their victory on Sunday.
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — You can say that the New York Giants won ugly on Sunday, if that’s how you want to look at it. Whatever. They won a game they weren’t supposed to win, defeating the previously AFC West-leading Las Vegas Raiders, 23-16.

They made game-changing, and game-saving, defensive plays. They ran the ball impressively. They did just enough in the passing game, even with a paltry 110 yards passing. They got three field goals from Graham Gano.

Maybe most importantly, MetLife Stadium — a place that has seen too many games with Giants fans booing and/or exiting early — was rocking at game’s end. Even with a large number of Raiders fans in attendance.

Here are some of the ‘things I think’ about Sunday’s victory.

Pounding the rock

From their first possession of the game the Giants did not hide their intention to try and ram the ball down the throat of the Las Vegas defense. They went with a lot of heavy ‘13’ personnel on their opening drive, with tackle Korey Cunningham functioning as the third tight end. Devontae Booker ran three times for 26 yards on that drive as the Giants took an early 7-0 lead.

The Giants returned to Cunningham and the heavy personnel again and again in the second half, especially after tight end Kaden Smith went out with a possible concussion.

Booker ended up with his best day as a Giant, carrying 21 times for 99 yards. He lost a 100-yard day by losing 3 yards on his final carry, after which he exited with a hip injury.

With Booker sidelined on the Giants’ final possession, Elijhaa Penny blasted through the Las Vegas defense for runs of 11 and 12 yards to help set up a field that stretched the Giants lead to 7 seven points.

The Giants entered the game 31st in the league in run blocking, per Football Outsiders. Sunday, though, the Giants got yardage when they needed it and made plays even when the Raiders knew the run was coming.

“I think both backs did a good job today. I thought Book and Eli both ran strong with good ball security. “I thought the game plan we put together this week – the offensive staff did a good job of seeing what we do well and what we can match up against them in terms of where other teams had success. Thought they found the right formula with that. We also left enough flexibility in the game plan – we always do, but this week especially not knowing who was going to be available – that as we lost (tight end) Kaden (Smith) in the game, you saw a lot more of (offensive lineman Korey) Cunningham playing that kind of jumbo tight end and create some situations that we could run through favorable looks and create situations that we wanted to see, certain looks on the field from their defense.”

The Giants’ 149 yards rushing was their second-highest total of the season. They had 163 Week 2 vs. Washington.

I think it was impressive to watch.

Who needs wide receivers?

Riding the elevator back to the sixth floor MetLife Stadium press box, Tom Rock of Newsday remarked that watching the way the Giants shuffled wide receivers was like watching a hockey team constantly change its lines. ‘Kudos’ to Tom, since I think that’s a great description.

Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney and John Ross were all playing at something less than 100 percent. The Giants ran different receivers in on virtually every play, with Collin Johnson and Darius Slayton also getting on the field. When they weren’t in ‘13’ personnel, that is.

Wide receivers were only targeted five times by the Giants, with Golloday making two catches for 28 yards and Toney just one for 9 yards. Golladay’s 14-yard catch for a first down at the 8:38 mark of the second quarter was the first catch of the game by a wide receiver.

I think the way the Giants played offense was kind of like watching the NFL circa the 1930s. Pound it in between the tackles with your big backs. Throw it to the tight ends. Play good defense.

The Giants ended up out-gained, 403-235, out-passed, 286-96, and had eight fewer first downs (24-16). They won, though. Whatever it takes.

Big plays on defense

I think it was really nice to see the Giants make game-changing defensive plays.

At times earlier in the season, they seemed confused and helpless. At other times, plays were there to be made and Giants’ defenders failed to make them. Remember all those dropped interceptions?

Sunday, a resurgent Giants’ defense that has now played well in three consecutive games, made those plays.

Xavier McKinney, who did not know until Friday that he would clear COVID protocol and be able to play, started things off. He stepped in front of Hunter Renfrow on the Raider’s first possession of the second half to intercept a Derek Carr pass and go 41 yards for a touchdown.

That was the Giants’ first defensive score of the season.

“I just read the quarterback,” McKinney said. “I felt Renfrow going out and I was kind of just all eyes on the quarterback the whole time. He was looking it down, so just trust my instincts and I went, and I made the play.”

With 5:19 left in the game and the Giants clinging to a 20-16 lead, McKinney stepped in front Las Vegas receiver Zay Jones to intercept a Carr pass at midfield. Cornerback James Bradberry said Jones had beaten him on a double move and McKinney “saved my life.”

I think I have been waiting for McKinney, the Giants’ second-round pick in 2020, to make a big impact on a game. Sunday, he finally did.

Quincy Roche and Leonard Williams combined for the game-clinching. Roche, a player the Giants smartly claimed off waivers from the Pittsburgh Steelers, has become a regular in the Giants’ rotation on the edge. He beat left tackle Kolton Miller, knocked the ball loose, Williams recovered and the Giants won.

“I think we’re just making plays when it’s time for us to make plays, you know,” Bradberry said. “Zay had a pick-six and then he made a game-changing play at the end on a double move, so we’re just making plays when the opportunity presents itself and we’re coming down with the ball.”

Edge of something good?

Don’t look now, but I think the Giants might be on the verge of having a young group of edge defenders to build with. Roche has been impressive, and is getting more and more playing time. Second-round pick Azeez Ojulari has 5.5 sacks, tied with Leonard Williams for the team lead, and looks like an impact player. If rookie Elerson Smith, who debuted Sunday but did not record any statistics, can become a productive player the Giants might have a group to build with.

Significantly, it looks like Oshane Ximines might not be part of that group. He was a healthy scratch on Sunday, and unless there are injuries I would not be surprised to see that continue.

A resilient bunch

The Giants are not a great team. They have made far too many mistakes this season. They have lost too many games they should have won. They have not been good enough offensively. Through the first six games, they were disappointing defensively.

To their credit, though, I have to agree with Judge that this Giants team is a resilient one that just plows forward no matter the circumstances.

“We just don’t blink. We just didn’t blink,” said tight end Evan Engram.

“We have a very resilient team, we have a very mentally tough team. To me, the most complimentary word you can use for any group of people is ‘team,’ and they stick together and they work together,” Judge said. “They challenge each other, they come back, they respond. They come back after tough losses.”

I do, as has been well-documented, have my issues with the way Judge has coached the Giants this season. I do not, though, think anyone can say that effort is ever an issue.

I think this is an amazing number

I can’t take credit for realizing this — that goes to Zack Rosenblatt of NJ Advance Media. The Giants’ 3-6 record is their BEST mark after nine games of a season since they went to the playoffs in 2016. Now, that certainly isn’t a mark of improvement. It’s really a black eye, speaking to just how awful the Giants have been the past 4+ seasons.

Still ... the Giants have lost games they had in their control to Washington, Atlanta and Kansas City this season. How different would the narrative about the Giants be if they had won those games and were 6-3? Or, if they had won two of them and were 5-4?

It just speaks to how narrow the difference is in the NFL between success and failure.

Good for Evan Engram

The biggest play the Giants made in the passing game on Sunday came from Evan Engram, a 30-yard touchdown on a contested catch against Jonathan Abram of the Raiders.

Engram has taken a ton of justifiable grief from the Giants’ fan base over the years. Sunday, he made a play that helped the Giants win a game.

“It’s a big play, a play that we worked on all week,” Engram said. “We knew what kind of coverage and the kind of defense they were going to play and DJ (Daniel Jones) made a perfect throw. Literally, a perfect throw and trusted me with it. I just went up and made a play for the team.”

Engram admitted sort of sheepishly that “It was cool. It felt good” to actually be cheered by the home crowd at MetLife Stadium.

Maybe you want Engram gone. Maybe you think he should already be gone. I think, though, you should feel good for him today. I do.