Giants' defensive improvements a sign of things to come
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - OCTOBER 18: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Leonard Williams #99 of the New York Giants in action against Kyle Allen #8 of the Washington Football Team at MetLife Stadium on October 18, 2020 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Giants defeated Washington 20-19. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Although the New York Giants sit with an uninspiring 4-7 record, the gradual improvements seen around the team are indicative that new coach Joe Judge may be the right fit at the helm of the organisation.

Judge arrived in January 2020, and in the process ignited the myriad of hopes and aspirations of a revitalised New York Giants side which had suffered under repeatedly ill-fated periods of leadership since Tom Coughlin left in 2015.

Nine days after his arrival, Judge had acquired Jason Garrett as his offensive coordinator and lured Patrick Graham back to New York as his assistant coach and defensive coordinator. The shakeup that the Giants so longingly desired seemed to be materialising finally. 

Offensively, the Giants are still in something of a quagmire, particularly when an already complex situation was exacerbated by the loss of Saquon Barkley in the second game of the season. And it looked to be made even direr as turnover issues for Daniel Jones persisted. By the end of the Giants’ narrow loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jones had 34 turnovers in 20 games, the most since Ryan Leaf in 1998-2000. 

Additionally, the inconsistency of tight end Evan Engram is sure to be an unending source of frustration for Judge, perhaps best exemplified in his team’s 22-21 loss to rivals the Philadelphia Eagles. Had Engram caught the pass, put a plate from Jones, the Giants would likely have gone on to win the game. 

One of the few offensive highlights for the Giants this year has been the performances of 2019 draftee Darius Slayton, who has proved crucial to Big Blue’s receiving core. With just over 100 receiving yards ahead of the next player, and seven more first downs, Slayton has shown he can be a reliable outlet for Jones. Although that’s far from enough for the second-year quarterback, who may be subtly the Giants take Ja’Marr Chase early in next year’s draft.

Jones, who had his best game of the season so far when the Giants exacted revenge on the Eagles, racking up 244 yards, a 75% completion rate, and a passer rating of 100.9. It’s important to note on Jones’s improvement because it’s come in line with a shift in the performances of an offensive line which hugely hindered Jones’s ability to perform.

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The line is fifth for allowing quarterback pressures with 113. They are second on the percentage of pressures per drop back at 27.5% and have allowed 44 quarterback hits, the third-highest in the league. It cannot also be simple chance that the Giants are the second-most blitzed team in the league, a weakness clearly recognised by their opponents.

The rookie linesmen of Andrew Thomas, Shane Lemieux and Matt Peart all struggled to make their mark in the early stages of the season, as exemplified by the frequent rotation seen on the line. However, they have since begun to come into their own in the league, helped by the steadiness of Nick Gates’s conversion to centre. And the frustration with the offensive line became more apparent when Marc Colombo was recently fired and replaced by Dave DeGugliemo, who Judge had worked with during 2014-15 in New England. 

And the improvements in this area are probably best demonstrated in Big Blue’s Pro Bowl nominations this year; James Bradberry, Blake Martinez, Jabrill Peppers, Logan Ryan, and Leonard Williams all legitimate cases in making it to the showpiece event. It’s also worth noting that three of those are new players, an idea of where Judge may be taking New York. 

However, a tedious shift in the offence has been mirrored by significant improvements in the defence, and the numbers are there to prove that Graham and the defence are working. The Giants conceded an average of 23 points per game this year, ninth in the league and down from 2019’s 28.2. And that’s including a 36-9 rout by the San Francisco 49ers and a 37-34 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. By contrast, the Giants score an average of 19.5 - third-lowest and 1.8 worse than last season. 

It’s been this defensive unit which sees the Giants somehow still in with a chance of making the playoffs - well, that and an incredibly poor NFC East. But make no mistake, this Giants defence has been driving Big Blue forward all year.  Sterner tests come as the season enters its final stretch, with the Giants still having to face the Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and Baltimore Ravens. A final-day match against division rivals  Cowboys could prove crucial.