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Giants-Rams: 5 impactful plays

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants put forward a valiant effort in their 26-25 loss against the Los Angeles Rams. The contest was one of the more entertaining games of the season for the Giants, who created explosive plays, had a special teams touchdown (yes, it’s possible), and put massive pressure on opposing quarterback Matt Stafford.

Wink Martindale sent blindside pressures, A-Gap plugs, gamed multiple players up front, and rotated players on the line of scrimmage and in the secondary. Martindale’s defense forced three turnovers and two of their four sacks were on third down.

The defense was far from perfect, but they allowed the Giants’ offense to only have two fewer yards than the Rams’ offense (391-389); 80 of those yards were on a Puka Nukua broken tackle and run for 80 yards that set up the second of Kyren Williams’ three touchdowns.

This loss against the Rams slides in next to the losses against the Jets, Bills, and even last week’s Eagles affair as games that were all too close. However, 2023 was not the year for Brian Daboll and the Giants - that much is clear. Here are the five plays, or sequence of plays, or types of plays, that were impactful to the game and the New York Giants.

Play(s) 1: Gunner Olszewski and two-point

A special teams’ play as the number one play, for real? Yes, Gunner Olszewski returned a punt 94 yards for a touchdown. The first punt return touchdown since Dwayne Harris in 2015 against the New York Jets:

The touchdown brought the Giants within one with a Mason Crosby extra point looming. The Rams jumped offside right before the attempt, which prompted Brian Daboll to go for two. I don’t hate the decision - what do the Giants have to lose? But execution this season has plagued the Giants, and if one play was a microcosm of the season, it was this 2-point conversion attempt:

Taylor had Barkley wide open, but just threw the football behind the running back. New York had success with this mesh concept earlier in the season against Washington:

It’s a mesh concept designed to create traffic and confusion against man coverage with Saquon Barkley releasing across the formation to the opposite side flat. The defender tasked to cover Barkely would have to sift through the trash of multiple drag routes - this is a good play call. Everything worked, except the execution.

After the game, Taylor stated the mishap was due to indecisiveness; he was unsure if he should run and take it himself or throw the ball to Saquon Barkley.

It was a mistake by Taylor, who, despite the bad throw, positioned the Giants in realistic field goal range at the end of the game. Taylor had a 31-yard rush to put kicker Mason Crosby in a position to be the hero by nailing a 54-yard attempt, but the kick was missed.

Play 2: Slayton deep...again

For the second week in a row, Darius Slayton benefitted from Tyrod Taylor’s willingness to look - and attack - deep:

Taylor matched Puka Nucua’s 80-yard reception and raised him a touchdown. Slayton tempoed his route well to catch the defensive back sleeping before turning the jets on for a long touchdown catch to help spark the Giants, and bring the Giants to a four-point deficit. Unfortunately, kicker Mason Crosby could not convert the extra point.

Play 3: Puka for 80 yards

The score was 14-10 early in the third quarter when the Giants’ defense forced a third-and-four. Quarterback Matt Stafford hit rookie phenom wide receiver Puka Nucua, who broke Adoree’ Jackson’s tackle attempt and ran it 80-yards to set up Kyren Williams’ 2-yard rushing touchdown.

Jackson attempted to strip the football out of the arms of Nacua, but failed to secure the tackle or push the rookie out of bounds. Here is Kyren Williams’ second touchdown of the game.

Play(s) 4: Dane Belton the magnet

The Giants selected Dane Belton as a redshirt junior from Iowa in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Belton had five interceptions for the Hawkeyes in 2021. Belton had two interceptions in his rookie season but could have had several more if his hands were better. He received snaps against the Rams after Jason Pinnock suffered an early injury. He was involved in three turnovers including these two interceptions:

Belton also fell on DeMarcus Robinson’s fumble that was forced by Adoree’ Jackson. He has only played in double-digit defensive snaps in sixc games this season. He played 24 snaps against the Eagles in Week 16 but played nine, six, and seven in the previous three weeks, respectively. His role is primarily as a BIG DIME defender and a special teams player.

It’s great to see competent safety play behind Xavier McKinney and Pinnock; the former’s fate is yet to be determined as he enters a contract off-season. Ball-hawking is only part of playing safety, but it’s a part that Belton seems to naturally possess.

Play(s) 5: Fourth-and-1 fumble

Brian Daboll opted to try and convert a fourth-and-1 at the Giants’ 47-yard line after Belton’s first interception. The Giants - who have gone three-and-out 59 times on the season - faced a third-and-five before Wan’Dale Robinson caught a 4-yard pass. At midfield, with the score tied, Taylor aligned for the fourth-and-1:

Eight plays and 46 yards later Stafford connected with Cooper Kupp for a 5-yard touchdown to go up seven:

The New York Giants were resilient and played one of the hottest teams in the NFL down to the final play. Still, poor execution and mistakes were the downfall for the Giants - something that is not shocking to this 2023 team.