The New York Giants have had to run the gauntlet of the NFL’s best teams thus far in 2023, having faced the league’s three best offenses and five of the top eight already, plus three of the top six defenses. It hasn’t been pretty to watch. Sunday brought an opponent that was more of a fair fight to MetLife Stadium, the Washington Commanders. Would this be the beginning of a Big Blue renaissance and improbable push for a playoff spot, or would it be the same old, same old?
The Giants’ defense dominated the first half, and the Commanders’ defense ruled in the second half. Both teams made mistakes. In the end, the Giants were left standing (barely), 14-7. Here are some reasons why.
The Giants’ pass rush lives
This game was won by the defense and specifically the defensive line. The Giants’ pass rush, which had mostly been missing in action, came alive today. Kayvon Thibodeaux has quickly become the Commanders’ daddy. He was credited with 1.5 sacks today, continually exerted pressure, and should have had a pick-6 interception. On the inside, Dexter Lawrence had his way with ex-teammate Nick Gates and had two sacks. Most notably, Leonard Williams turned in his best game of the season, with a sack, numerous other pressures, and the Giants’ first blocked field goal attempt in 99 games and six years. Micah McFadden shared a sack, as did Jason Pinnock, on blitzes.
Wink Martindale brought the house this game after playing it more conservatively the previous two weeks against more dangerous offenses. Sam Howell was affected by all the pressure, though he stood in gamely all day and almost brought Washington back from a 14-0 first-half deficit. The Giants’ 6-sack day exceeded their season total going into the game.
Jalin Hyatt is officially a threat
We’ve been seeing it in bits and pieces this season, but today was Hyatt’s coming out game. He had only two catches in five targets, but they were for 42 and 33 yards. He almost had a third on what would have been a miraculous falling-to-the-ground effort with one free arm in the end zone.
Hyatt is showing that he can get open against NFL cornerbacks. He’s also shown that he can catch contested balls. If the Giants’ offensive line can start to give their quarterbacks good protection on a more consistent basis, he is going to be a problem for opposing defenses. Hyatt looks like a third-round bargain.
Darren Waller is now officially a Giant
Joe Schoen’s biggest off-season acquisition, tight end Darren Waller, has had a mostly quiet start as a Giant. Last week he had a chance to make a big impact at the end of the game, but only one of two consecutive pass interference penalties was called.
This week the real Darren Waller finally arrived. Waller broke the Giants’ 220-minute touchdown drought on a seam route and a beautiful pass from Tyrod Taylor in the second quarter. It was the Giants’ first first-half TD of the season and their first Met Life TD of the season in their third home game.
That was just the cherry on top for Waller, though. All told, he caught 7 of the 8 passes that came his way for 98 yards. This was the type of performance we thought would be the norm. Let’s not get too excited, but it is the type of thing the Giants need to do more.
Bad teams make bad mistakes at bad times
The 2023 Giants are not yet a good team. They won today, but they took a game that they were leading, and dominating, 14-0 in the first half, and almost blew it. A series of awful mistakes put the Commanders in a position to tie or win the game in the final minute. Give Washington credit - their formidable pass rush got going in the second half and made life difficult for the Giants’ patchwork offensive line, and Howell is a tough customer who hung in there. Still, this could have been an easy win were it not for:
- A missed 42-yard field goal by Graham Gano in the first quarter. Gano was on the injury report list this week. (What Giants weren’t?) He is reported to have a left knee injury. Perhaps we can give him a pass given his usual reliability. Still, a 17-0 lead at the half would have made things easier.
- A muffed punt by Sterling Shepard after the Commanders’ first drive of the third quarter was stopped cold by the defense. We can’t blame Shep. He was only in there because Eric Gray, who fumbled his first punt (but without the Giants losing possession), had left the game with a (cough-cough) “calf injury.” Whether that injury was caused by Brian Daboll kicking him in the calf when he got to the sideline was not reported. Meanwhile, could-be Giant Jamison Crowder effortlessly caught and returned punts for the Commanders. At some point, this is going to cost the Giants a game. This play turned the momentum of the game (if there is such a thing). Washington scored to cut the lead to 14-7, and the rest of the game was nail-biting. By the game’s end, the crowd was cheering for fair catches and touchbacks.
- Kayvon Thibodeaux dropped a sure interception and pick-six with no one around him. He’s a defensive lineman, and he otherwise was an impact player all day, so I can’t blame him too much. Still, these types of mistakes are how bad teams remain bad.
- Saquon Barkley, who hardly ever fumbles, had the ball stripped out of his hands when the Giants were in the red zone and turned the ball over to Washington at their 8-yard line when the Giants were about to take a 10- or 14-point lead with under eight minutes to go.
This was a game the Giants were in position to win easily. They made it a nail-biter...as every Giants-Washington game seems to be. In the end, a win is a win. One game into my predicted playoff run, they are still alive. Nine days from the trade deadline, they may still be sellers.