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Hey, the New York Giants have a real honest to goodness pass rush

That, and some other Giants thoughts as the Giants enter Week 16

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Tuesday is usually an off day for NFL teams. The New York Giants will practice, though, since their Week 16 game against the Minnesota Vikings will be played on Saturday afternoon. Here are some things I’m thinking about as the NFL calendar rolls on.

Pass rush

Don’t look now, but the Giants suddenly seem to have their most fearsome pass rush since the NASCAR package days of Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka.

Since second-year edge defender Azeez Ojulari returned to the lineup three games ago, the Giants are second in the league in sacks with 12, an average of 4.0 per game. They are also second in the NFL in sack percentage at 10.62.

Ojulari had a team rookie record (I know, I know Lawrence Taylor) 8.0 sacks last season, but he never had a stretch in 2021 like the three quarterback-terrorizing games he has had since returning from his latest quad injury.

Over three games, Ojulari has 3.5 sacks, six quarterback hits, 15 total pressures, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

Over that same stretch, Thibodeaux has two sacks, three quarterback hits, 10 pressures and Sunday’s strip-sack/forced fumble/fumble recovery for a touchdown. Go back four games and the rookie from Oregon has 19 pressures in that span.

Dexter Lawrence has had 1.5 of his career-high 6.5 sacks over the past three games, along with six quarterback hits, 14 pressures and a forced fumble.

Williams had a pair of pressures in his return to the lineup Sunday following a neck injury.

Check out these pass rush win rates, from Pro Football Focus, for Sunday night.

Lawrence won on 28.0 percent of his pass rush attempts, Ojulari on 19.2 percent, Leonard Williams on 15.4 percent and Thibodeaux on 13.0 percent.

There are only six qualifying edge defenders, per PFF, with pass rush win rates for the season higher than the 19.2 Ojulari posted Sunday. For the season, Lawrence is third among interior defensive linemen with a pass rush win rate of 18.3 percent. Aaron Donald is No. 1 at 19.1 percent and Cameron Heyward No. 2 at 18.8 percent.

“Four good players. It helps,” said head coach Brian Daboll, who also credited players like Ryder Anderson (two sacks in two weeks), Tomon Fox, Oshane Ximines and Justin Ellis. “When the four of those guys are on the field for as many snaps as they can be, it certainly helps. They’re all good players.”

It can’t be a comforting thought for opposing offensive coordinators that Thibodeaux and Ojulari are only 22 years old, and that Lawrence is just 25. Williams is an old man at 28.

Kayvon Thibodeaux narrative

Let’s hope that the ‘he takes plays off’ narrative that followed Thibodeaux at Oregon is finally dead and buried.

Thibodeaux has, honestly, been burying that narrative all season. He just has not compiled the overwhelming stats or the constant splash plays to make it seem that way.

You don’t make the kind of impact Thibodeaux did on Sunday or get the respect from teammates he has earned by taking plays off.

“He played a good game. Watched the tape last night on the train, and that’s what we expect from him – to go out there and play with effort,” Daboll said of Thibodeaux’s work against the Commanders. “That’s what we saw in him in college. When we went through the process of selecting him in the draft, that’s what we felt really good about: A guy that loves football, that competes, that finishes. He’s done a really good job of fitting into our organization and what we want to do.”

Saquon Barkley said this:

“The biggest thing for me that stood out, outside of his performance was before the game a rookie stepped up and called everyone up and got us going. And that’s big. He showed his leadership qualities, showed the type of person he is and it’s every single day. He comes to work every single day, he grinds and works on his craft and gets better. Like I said, big time players need to step up in this game and our guys gotta be the guys. And he’s one of those guys, and I think that’s just the start. He showed what he’s capable of doingand the future is really bright for him.”

Indeed it is.

Bredeson and Gates

Daboll said Monday that both Ben Bredeson, who played 42 snaps at left guard Sunday, and Nick Gates, who started and played 21, deserved to play.

“I think they’ve both earned playing time,” Daboll said. “I think both of them had a good game.”

Bredeson and Gates had virtually identical Pro Football Focus grades.

So, who should play? If you have to choose one or the other I look at it this way. Bredeson was on the field during the Giants’ 18-play, 97-yard drive. He was also on the field on the Giants’ final drive, when they chewed up more than four minutes. The Giants’ offense functioned its best when Bredeson was playing. The Giants were also 6-1 this season with Bredeson as the starting left guard, and they ran the ball better.

I think that’s the answer. Bredeson isn’t a star, but this Giants’ team seems to function better with him on the field.

Good for Landon Collins

I have been asked a lot of questions about Collins since the Giants added him to their practice, mostly about why he wasn’t playing more, or at all.

Collins got his most extensive opportunity Sunday night, and played well. In 27 snaps. he had three tackles and his physicality and athleticism — from the inside linebacker position — helped the defense.

I have long thought the 6-foot, 222-pound Collins was better suited to the linebacker role, or any role close to the line of scrimmage, than he was to a role that asked him to patrol big patches of the secondary. The prevailing belief earlier in his career was that he simply wasn’t willing to accept that role.

The Giants are using him as a linebacker. I would have to ask him directly, and will if I get the opportunity, but I would have to think that being out of the game at the beginning of this season was humbling enough for Collins to accept the position switch to continue his career.

In the role he played for the Giants on Sunday, Collins might still be able to be a productive player.

It’s all still pretty unbelievable

Virtually no one saw a playoff berth coming for the Giants before the 2022-23 season began. Yet, here we are entering Week 16 and there is actually a scenario in which the Giants can clinch a wild-card spot this weekend. Merry Christmas!

This is a Giants team that had five straight double-digit loss seasons entering the year. Winning seven games would have been considering an accomplishment. Breaking the string of double-digit loss seasons would have been considered awesome. But this? It’s not going to end in Super Bowl glory, but it sure beats another terrible year where commenters at Big Blue View would already be arguing at the top of their lungs about the draft, which is more than four months away.

“What does it really mean? It means we give ourselves a better chance of accomplishing our goals,” said Barkley. “That’s one day at a time. Come in, we got a quick turnaround Saturday against a really good team that just came back from being down 33 points. None of us are shocked in this locker room. We knew what we were capable of doing, and we put ourselves in the driver seat to control our own destiny. Gotta take it one day at a time to win games.”

Daboll didn’t want to attach any big-picture meaning to the Giants being 8-5-1 and on the cusp of an unlikely playoff berth.

“I’ll just say what it means for the game: It gives you an opportunity to be successful in the game when your best players are playing well,” Daboll said. “The significance of this win – again, you’ve heard me say it (and) I know it’s boring: It’s a division game. I’m not focused on what it means or anything like that. We’re 8-5-1; we went 1-0 this week. And I’d say that there are a lot of guys that contributed to the outcome of the game, made some good plays in critical times. That’s what we’re going to need going forward.”

Still, I will put this simply. It bodes well for the future. For two reasons. It looks like there is a core of talented young players to build around, maybe somewhat better than we realized before the season began. It also looks like the Giants have the right people in charge, on the coaching staff and in the front office.