In this edition of “Cover 3” on Giants.com, we discuss the most encouraging signs of the team’s back-to-back wins coming out of the bye week.
JOHN SCHMEELK: If the game against the Buccaneers proves anything, it’s that the Giants have a formula they are going to have to follow on offense to win football games. It started against the 49ers and continued versus the Buccaneers. The Giants are not a team that’s going to be able to come out in shotgun and throw it 40-50 times a game and win. The Giants have been playing under center a lot more with either a fullback or multiple tight ends in the game. They have worked play-action off those types of formations, limiting Eli Manning’s deep drop-backs in obvious passing situations. It might not be the ideal way to play in the modern NFL with points being put up all over the place, but the Giants’ roster needs the style to be effective.
Of course, sticking to that formula is easier said than done. The Giants have to have leads, or be within a score to stick to the running game the way they did on Sunday. They have to be able to run the ball successfully on early downs. Continuously running the ball and being in second and third-and-longs doesn’t accomplish anything. The offensive line has to block up front, and Saquon Barkley needs to continue to be decisive on his runs. The fact the Bucs turned it over four times on Sunday certainly helped.
The Giants also have to avoid negative plays. Against the Buccaneers, Barkley had just one run for loss, Manning was sacked just four times, and they had just one penalty enforced on the offense -- a false start. The Giants were rarely in must-pass situations where the Bucs could just pin their ears back and rush the passer. I look forward to seeing whether the Giants can continue playing this way against the Eagles on Sunday. The Philly secondary is an injured mess that has struggled in recent weeks, but they still have a very strong and deep defensive line that can get after the quarterback. They also have an explosive offense that can score quickly. Whether the Giants can stick to their formula will determine whether they can win their third straight game.
DAN SALOMONE: You can point to nine different players having receptions against the Buccaneers and the eight the week before, which forced defenses to play the Giants true. Or you can point to them running the ball early in games as Saquon Barkley has averaged 12.7 first-half carries in their three wins to just 7.1 in the seven losses. Or you look at the lack of turnovers. But those are just side effects. The real answer is the simplest one: the offensive line. These past two weeks have been the best for the unit, and it’s no surprise that against Tampa Bay Eli Manning was tied for the third-highest completion percentage in a single game in NFL history (minimum 15 attempts) and against the Niners, he led the 41st game-winning drive of his career. The line’s improved play has coincided with the arrival of Jamon Brown, a former Ram starting at right guard between tackle Chad Wheeler and center Spencer Pulley, who was acquired just before the start of the regular season. Left tackle Nate Solder and rookie left guard Will Hernandez are the only ones who have started all 10 games.
“They found a way quickly to work well together,” Shurmur said of the current configuration, which has two games under its belt. “We still had a couple breakdowns [against Tampa Bay], but for the most part, I think they’ve played their best two games as a unit, and we can see the impact it has on a football game. I’ll go back to what I said and you can probably quote it to me, we’ll go as far as that line will block for us, and they’ve blocked better the last two weeks. That’s contributed.”
“It’s been the right combination for the last two games,” Solder said. “I think this line combination has to do work, and get better and improve. We can’t take a step back. I think that if we played like we did in Tampa Bay next week, it won’t be good enough. So, we’re going to have to play better, and I think that’s the same moving forward throughout the season.”
LANCE MEDOW: In the first eight games of the season, the Giants had a turnover differential of minus-4. They had 11 turnovers and just seven takeaways. In the last two games combined, they’re plus-6 in that department (six takeaways, zero turnovers). Turnover differential and wins and losses go hand in hand, so it should surprise no one that the Giants have won each of their last two games. To take it a step further, the Giants have won the turnover battle four times this season. The Giants have won three of those games: Week 3 at the Texans (plus-2), Week 10 at the 49ers (plus-2) and Week 11 vs the Bucs (plus-4). The lone exception was Week 7 at Atlanta when they were plus-1, but that game went down to the wire and they lost by three points (23-20)
On top of collecting four takeaways against the Bucs, the Giants scored 10 points off those Tampa Bay mishaps, including a pick-six from Alec Ogletree. Takeaways are great, but if you don’t do anything with them, they’re irrelevant. Not only were the Giants able to score points off those takeaways, but most of them came at critical times. Michael Thomas’ interception came at the end of the first half when the Bucs were driving and putting themselves in position to tie the game or pull within four points on a field goal, knowing they were getting the ball to start the third. Ogletree’s pick-six came on Tampa Bay’s first possession of the third quarter and padded the Giants lead to two touchdowns, and Curtis Riley’s interception made it three straight Bucs’ possessions resulting in a turnover. B.W. Webb’s interception was the biggest of all given it sealed the victory and prevented the Bucs from getting in position for a potential game-tying field goal attempt. In the last two games, the Giants’ defense has been opportunistic and that’s made a huge difference.
Following the bye, defensive coordinator James Bettcher said his unit has to improve on two things: getting off the field on third down and getting after the quarterback. Well, in the last two games combined, opponents have gone 14-for-22 on third down (64%) and the Giants have collected just one sack. Takeaways can do wonders in covering up defensive issues, but keep in mind opportunistic plays can also be fluky and come and go as was evident in the Giants’ first half of the season. That’s why, as Bettcher emphasized, his unit still needs to clean up those two areas.