Despite their anemic output, the New York Giants showed some improvement on offense against the Dallas Cowboys. After a week that saw the return of Justin Pugh from a sprained knee and Shane Vereen from a concussion, they managed to build on that improvement Sunday in a 17-6 victory over the Detroit Lions.
The defense gave up yards, but was stout when it counted, aided by some more absolutely stellar punting in terrible conditions by Brad Wing. But while the Giants’ defense had the answer to the NFL’s premier comeback machine, I have to go to the offense for this week’s big winner
WINNER - Justin Pugh
How much of a difference does a simple left guard make?
Apparently quite a bit, and that’s why Justin Pugh is our winner. Committed to the run from the first snap of the game, the Giants managed one of their best rushing performances of the year, getting 114 yards on 32 carries, 3.5 yards per carry. The yards per carry wasn’t spectacular, but the Giants were fairly consistently able to move the ball on the ground, especially when it was Paul Perkins carrying the ball.
And the Giants’ best runs? Behind Justin Pugh. Whether it was to the left, behind Pugh and Ereck Flowers or up the middle behind Pugh and Weston Richburg, the Giants were opening holes on the ground.
Thanks to a functional running game and some good pass protection from Pugh, the passing game was remarkably efficient. Eli Manning only threw for 201 yards, but he completed 20 of 28 passes (71 percent) and a pair of touchdowns, including an uncoverable pass to Odell Beckham Jr.
Manning looked far more comfortable in the pocket than he had in past weeks, and barring a sack on a good rush by Ezekiel Ansah, his protection was largely solid. That was surely thanks, in large part, by the return of Pugh, who is a leader on that line. The communication and protection along the line seemed much smoother than it had in recent weeks when the left guard position was a revolving door.
It wasn’t perfect. There were still execution mistakes, but the offense simply looked smoother and more functional than it had in the five weeks since Pugh was injured.
Loser — Janoris Jenkins
The Giants lost Jackrabbit in the first half to injury when Trevin Wade’s knee caught Jenkins in the back. The Giants’ defense stood strong without him, constantly frustrating the Lions’ offense despite giving up yards. His absence was noticeable, as the resourceful Detroit offense tests every part of a defense, but they were ultimately able to stifle the most clutch offense in the league.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie took over for Jenkins on the outside and played well, nearly giving up a touchdown on what looked like a miscommunication on the back end, but his speed let him make the tackle. Later on he made the interception to (essentially) put the game away. The loss of Jenkins truly shows up in the nickel package — there is a big step down from DRC to Trevin Wade, Coty Sensabaugh, and Leon Hall in terms of pure ability.
Jackrabbit isn’t a “loser” but his loss is a definite blow to the Giants as they face a short turnaround before facing the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night. At this point it wouldn’t be surprising to see Jenkins held out of Thursday night’s game if it means getting him healthy for the Week 17 game against the Washington Redskins’ potent receiving corps — and an increasingly likely play-off berth.