“The season starts now.”
Per edge defender Kayvon Thibodeaux, that was New York Giants head coach Brian Daboll’s message to his playoff-contending 7-4 team on Monday.
That six-game season begins on Sunday when the 7-5 Washington Commanders, winners of six of their last seven games, visit MetLife Stadium
This is what I wrote on Monday:
The New York Giants enter the home stretch of the 2022-23 NFL season with a tenuous hold on a playoff berth. The 7-4 Giants are currently the No. 6 seed in the NFC. This week’s opponent, the 7-5 Washington Commanders, is the No. 7 seed.
All four NFC East teams, in fact, would be in the playoffs if they began this week. The 10-1 Philadelphia Eagles are the No. 1 seed. The Dallas Cowboys, who defeated the Giants on Thanksgiving Day, are the No. 5 seed with an 8-4 record.
“The whole season obviously is in front of you right now,” Giants coach Brian Daboll said after the loss to Dallas. “We have a long way to go. Obviously, the rest of December here and the early part of January. So, we have to focus on getting ready to play Washington, but you’re sitting at 7-4. You put yourself in a position to play meaningful games in December, which is important. Last year (in Buffalo), I think we were 7-6 after 13 games.
“Look, anything can happen in this league. I’ve said it before, it’s a humbling league. You can be on the top of the mountain one week and fall off the next week.”
The Giants have two games with the Commanders remaining on their schedule. They likely need to win at least one of them to have a legitimate shot at the playoffs. This one at MetLife might be their best chance. The Giants and Commanders play again in two weeks, and Washington somehow has a bye week in-between. That means the Commanders can spend three straight weeks focused on how to play against the Giants.
NFC playoff picture
1. Philadelphia Eagles, 10-1
2. Minnesota Vikings, 9-2
3. San Francisco 49ers, 7-4
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 5-6
5. Dallas Cowboys, 8-3
6. New York Giants, 7-4
7. Washington Commanders, 7-5
8. Seattle Seahawks, 6-5
9. Atlanta Falcons 5-7
10. Detroit Lions, 4-7
Who plays for New York
The Giants have designated three players — offensive lineman Ben Bredeson, edge defender Azeez Ojulari and safety Tony Jefferson — to return from injured reserve. Tight end Daniel Bellinger (eye) and right tackle Evan Neal (MCL) are not on IR but have not played in several weeks. They also could be back this week.
We will find out during the week if starting cornerbacks Adoree’ Jackson (sprained MCL) and Fabian Moreau (oblique) have any chance of playing.
Obviously, the healthier the Giants are for the upcoming stretch run the better.
Debut of Chase Young
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Chase Young has not played since suffering a torn ACL in Week 9 of the 2021 season. He is expected to make his season debut for the Commanders against the Giants.
Young was initially expected to play last Sunday, when Washington defeated the Atlanta Falcons, but was sidelined by an illness. Commanders coach Ron Rivera said Sunday the team had been “pretty excited” by what they saw from Young in practice before he became ill.
Young had 7.5 sacks and 12 quarterback as a rookie when he won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, but only 1.5 sacks and four QB hits before being injured last season.
The Commanders, even without Young, lead the league in quarterback knockdowns with 59 (15.8 percent) of their pass-rushing attempts.
Getting Saquon started
Getting Saquon Barkley going again is a topic we looked at earlier. Sandwiched around a 35-carry, 152-yard game against the Houston Texans, Barkley has had his three worst performances of the season in the last four games. In our earlier post, we listed possible reasons:
- Is Barkley, now fourth in the NFL with 992 rushing yards, injured? Or, worn down from a workload that has him on pace for a career-most 400 touches? His previous career-high was 352 in 2018, his outstanding rookie season.
- Are opposing defenses ratcheting up the pressure, keying on Barkley so much that they are taking away his effectiveness?
- Or, is it as simple as the fact that injuries at tight end have taken some of the Giants’ most effective run blockers — and run-blocking schemes — off the table?
Whatever the reason, the Giants need the big play version of Barkley if they are going to win Sunday.
The Giants are last in the NFL with 19 passing plays of 20 or more yards, and nine of 25 or more yards.
The tremendous 44-yard catch by Darius Slayton against Dallas on Thursday that set up the Giants’ only touchdown is the type of play the Giants haven’t had enough of this season, and that play illustrated how much easier big plays make scoring points.
The deep shot just has not been a real part of the Giants’ offense in 2022. Quarterback Daniel Jones has attempted just 15 passes of 20+ yards down the field, 35th in the NFL. Part-timers like P.J. Walker of the Carolina Panthers, Cooper Rush of the Dallas Cowboys and Mitchell Trubisky of the Pittsburgh Steelers have thrown more.
Daboll knows explosive plays in the passing game would be a good thing.
“The less explosive plays, the higher level of execution on a consistent basis you need to have. But we’ve had quite a few long drives, and you have to have usually 11 guys doing the right thing to operate an efficient offense 14, 15 plays in a row,” Daboll said. “So, anytime you can get an explosive (play), whether that’s a run or a pass, that certainly helps because it just eliminates some of the situations that you’ll be in throughout the drive. Third downs where it’s usually advantage defense, and on the road in a tough environment against a defensive line like that that can get after the passer. You take away those, that helps you. No doubt about it.”
Do the Giants have the receivers, the offensive line, and the quarterback to generate a few more?