The New York Giants had a memorable history with the New England Patriots during the Eli Manning - Tom Brady era. Among the epic games were the regular season finale in the 2007 season in which the Giants almost ruined the Patriots perfect season; the subsequent Super Bowl in which the Giants did ruin the Patriots’ perfect season, including the greatest catch in Super Bowl history; the 2011 regular season matchup in Foxborough in which Eli Manning won the game with 15 seconds left with a TD pass to Jake Ballard; the subsequent Super Bowl in which the Giants once again took down the Bradys, including the greatest pass-and-catch in Super Bowl history; and their last MetLife meeting, in which Landon Collins couldn’t hold onto a seeming interception that would have won the game for the Giants.
Fast forward to 2023, and times have certainly changed. The 3-8 Giants were jockeying with the 2-8 Patriots and several other teams for the pole position in the Caleb Williams - Drake Maye sweepstakes (if not intentionally, then at least by their poor play). This one was not a classic. What did we learn from the Giants 10-7 win over the Patriots?
The Giants’ players are not tanking
We don’t know what is in the minds of the front office and the coaching staff. You can make the case that trading Leonard Williams in the middle of the season for draft picks is a move a team that is tanking would make. Maybe that was the message the players on the defensive side of the ball got, because they didn’t show up the next two games against Las Vegas and Dallas.
Since then, though, the defense has been better. For the second week in a row, the Giants intercepted three passes, with Tae Banks, Bobby Okereke, and Xavier McKinney getting one apiece. Okereke is having a tremendous first season as a Giant. Eyebrows were raised at the size of the contract he got, but there should be no complaints by now. He’s the best sub-300 pound defender the Giants have. McKinney has played better since his post-game rant, even if it may have been the catalyst for the apparently disintegrating relationship between Wink Martindale and Brian Daboll. Banks has had a rough few games but he is now going after the ball. There are still problems on the defense, as we discuss below, but they are playing hard. Kayvon Thibodeaux didn’t have a monster game but he got good pressure on the Patriots’ quarterbacks and had several big run stops.
The offense hasn’t been as successful, but they too are at least playing hard. The offensive line’s pass protection has (I think) been a little better the last two weeks - at least they’re not allowing all the free runners that clobbered Daniel Jones earlier in the season. The run game is a different story. Saquon Barkley gained 14 yards on his first carry. He still averaged only 3.8 for the game. The Giants consistently put themselves in second-and-long situations because when they run inside the tackles on first down it is almost invariably stuffed. When they tried a fly sweep with Wan’Dale Robinson the handoff was botched.
Mostly, though, I saw players who were excited to be part of another win. The talk about Caleb Williams or Drake Maye can now stop, thanks to New England kicker Chad Ryland. Jayden Daniels, Bo Nix, Michael Penix Jr., J.J. McCarthy? Sure, debate their merits all you want.
Jalin Hyatt is Tommy DeVito’s best friend
DeVito has been the feel-good story of a mostly miserable 2023 season after his eye-opening performance in Washington. Today was a bit of a different story, and that was to be expected against a Bill Belichick defense. DeVito was sporadically effective in the first half after a rough start. He showed patience, preferring to scramble or take the sack rather than putting the ball in harm’s way, just as he did last week. When he did pass, Jalin Hyatt was his main downfield threat. In the first quarter Hyatt had catches for 29 and 22 yards. Then late in the second quarter, Hyatt kept a “drive” alive after Okereke returned an interception 55 yards to New England’s 26 yard line with the score still 0-0. On third-and-8, Hyatt’s third reception, for 12 yards, gave the Giants a new set of downs, and Isaiah Hodgins’ 12-yard TD catch followed three downs later.
The second half was a tougher slog for DeVito. Belichick played a lot of zone and rotated defenders at the snap. DeVito spent a lot of time scanning the field, either not seeing anyone open or not trusting what he did see, and wound up scrambling and taking sacks more often than not (although his 6 sacks on the day were three less than last week). After passing for 117 yards in the first half, he only had 74 yards in the second half.
Most of those came on one crucial play. After Bailey Zappe replaced Mac Jones at halftime and led a 60-yard drive to tie the score, the Giants had third-and-16 at their 19-yard line after another Barkley one-yard gain and another DeVito sack. The momentum had clearly changed. Then DeVito, with the pocket collapsing around him, dropped a 41-yard bullet just over J.C. Jackson’s head that Hyatt corralled in-bounds to get the Giants out of a hole and change the tone of the game.
Hyatt had 5 receptions in 6 targets for 109 yards, his best game of the season. He is becoming the receiver Joe Schoen imagined when he traded up to get him.
Can you defend a screen pass just once?
I’m not sure what fraction of the Patriots’ passes were screens or outlets, but it had to be most of them. And no wonder - as good as the Giants’ defense is at times, they simply cannot defend a screen pass.
The Patriots’ wide receivers and tight ends consistently created traffic in front of the receivers, who routinely knifed through the Giants’ defense for first downs. For the game, Patriots quarterback Mac Jones averaged 4.2 yards per attempt. Bailey Zappe did him one better, averaging 3.9 yards per attempt. The game plan was clear from the outset, yet the Giants never found a way to defend it. When the Giants’ offense attempts screens and outlets, though, mostly they get blown up.
Life without Dexter Lawrence is not pretty
When the Giants traded Leonard Williams it was accepted that the interior run defense would suffer, and it has. What no one expected was that Dexter Lawrence, who has never missed a game due to injury, would go down as well, with (of course) a hamstring.
Apparently Belichick and offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien got the message that neither Williams or Lawrence would be on the field. They ran Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott mostly between the tackles all day, and why not? Much of the time you could be forgiven for thinking that the Giants had no interior defensive linemen on the field.
Stevenson had runs of 15, 13, 9, and 13 yards, while Elliott had runs of 13, 9, and 8, almost always inside. All told, Stevenson and Elliott combined for 144 rushing yards, as opposed to 52 yards for Barkley and Matt Breida. Let’s hope that Lawrence’s hammy heals over the bye and he is back for the Giants’ next game.