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Cover 4: Takeaways from London & how Giants keep it going


The crew reacts to the win in London and the team's 4-1 start to the season:

John Schmeelk: There's no simple answer to why the Giants were able to score 27 points, beat the Packers and start 4-1 despite an injured roster that is at the start of a long-term building process. It starts with coaching, but not in the way a lot of people think.

The refrain of the last four years has been "WHY DON'T THE GIANTS THROW THE BALL DOWN THE FIELD MORE!?!?!" and the answer has always been the injuries and performance of the roster on the offensive line and wide receiver did not allow for a high volume of those attempts. The protection just wasn't good enough. And here's the funny thing: the current coaching staff has continued that trend!

The Giants have ATTEMPTED only nine passes that have traveled 20 or more yards, the second-fewest in the NFL. The Giants only have 21 pass completions of 15+ yards, the third-fewest in the NFL. Yet, here the Giants are at 4-1. How? Let's go back to a Daniel Jones quote from last week (emphasis mine): "I think his system is one that fits us well as a team. I think it gives us a lot of options. It allows us to move guys around and get guys in different spots to let them do what they do best."

The key to the passing offense has been Jones' decision making, which is aided by the scheme providing him options depending on what the defense is showing, and easier completions for shorter distances that allow the team to move the ball consistently and avoid incomplete passes. Jones is completing a career-best 66.7% of his passes. He has the lowest average depth of target (min. 25 dropbacks) in the league of just 6.9 yards, but he has been efficient.

Jones also has gained important yards in crucial situations with his legs. He has the third-most rushing yards in the league among quarterbacks. On every play, there always seems to be an option for Jones, whether throwing or running depending on what the defense shows.

To be clear, the lack of downfield throws is not a criticism of the coaching staff. This is how they have to play in order to win games. The staff has tailored the game plans to the roster and the strength and weaknesses of the opponents that has given the team a chance to win in EVERY GAME they have played this year. They've managed to win four of them.

It's the small wrinkles this defy tendencies or put defenses into precarious situations that are impossible to see watching a game once live on television. It is making things a little easier on Jones that has led to better decisions and fewer turnovers. According to Pro Football Focus Jones, Jones' 2.7% turnover-worthy play rate is 13th-best in the NFL. The Giants' five giveaways are tied for seventh-fewest in the league. The big mistakes are not there.

And you have to mention Saquon Barkley and the running game, because without him and the explosive plays he creates, the Giants would look a lot more like the offense we have seen the last three years when he was hurt for much of the time. Barkley is tied for the second in the league in 20-yards runs (five) and tied for the most 40-yard rushes (two). He also has only one of the Giants' two receptions that have gone for more than 30 yards.

The Giants have scored 10 touchdowns this year. On six of those drives, Saquon Barkley has a play that gained at least 29 yards. On six of those drive, he has a play that has gone for at least 15 yards. He has been the big-play machine who has helped the Giants score. His value to the team is nearly immeasurable. Without him and excellent game plans from the coaching staff, the Giants are not 4-1 and the offense is not averaging over 20 points per game. And there's no way the Giants walk out of London with a victory.

Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka came from systems with dynamic downfield passing attacks that were some of the most aggressive and explosive in the league. They've backed away from that with the Giants with a different group of players because they felt it gives them the best chance to win games. They've adjusted their approaches, which is not something coaches often do. They deserve much credit.

Dan Salomone: In the NFL, good teams have a small gap between what they say and what they do. You often hear the phrase "next man up" come out of the mouths of coaches and players, but not all coaches and players are doing what the Giants are doing. And that is never flinching when something doesn't go their way. Whether that's because of injury or game plan, Brian Daboll has gotten his players to embody the mantra.

"It's my fourth year now with the Giants, and in years past, when guys go down, that's when we really struggle," safety and team captain Julian Love said. "But this team is different. The guys who step up and fill in those positions, you see Adoree' [Jackson] going down, you see some guys stepping up and making some big plays. You see Nick McCloud, Fabian Moreau, Justin Layne make some big plays at the end. Because guys are ready, guys are resilient and guys know what it takes to win. And that's what good teams to do. The best teams in the league aren't staying the least injured, they are not staying healthy the most, but they have guys that step up and make plays when their time's called. So that's what we have on this team."

Lance Medow: Sometimes your best defense is your offense and that was the case in Sunday's win over the Packers in London. Yes, the Giants deflected two of Aaron Rodgers' passes on consecutive downs from the New York 2 to force the Packers to turn over the ball on downs and Dexter Lawrence's third-down sack earlier in the game took Green Bay out of field goal range; but the offense's ability to sustain lengthy drives, and, most important, finish them with touchdowns was far more influential in recording the win.

There were no turnovers nor notable returns in the game, so the Giants had to orchestrate drives of at least 56 yards on each of their final five possessions that ended with a score (two field goals, three touchdowns). Two of their three touchdown drives required at least 11 plays and 86 yards and two of their five scoring possessions ate up at least seven minutes of playing time. New York's time of possession was 32:11 while Green Bay finished at 27:49. Normally, possession is indicative of how well a team played because it's more about what you do with the ball. In this case, the Giants turned their drives into 27 points, highlighted by three touchdowns in four red zone possessions.

You also can't overlook their efficiency on third down (6-11). Entering Sunday's game, the Packers were first in the NFL in third-down defense (24%). A big reason for the Giants' success was their ability to run the ball on early downs, which afforded them the luxury of facing manageable third downs - six of their 11 third downs were for seven yards or less and they converted four of them. That's how you sustain drives, milk the clock and finish with touchdowns. The Packers had just one possession in the third quarter. Keeping Aaron Rodgers on the sideline is ideal but to make that strategy effective, you can't just play keep-away. Instead, you have to find the end zone and the Giants did just that.

Matt Citak: When discussing the Giants' strong 4-1 start, there are many players and coaches that deserve a ton of credit. The Giants have been playing fundamental team football on both sides of the ball, which can be attributed to both smart coaching and the players' accurately executing the game plan. The defense has seen several unheralded heroes step up and contribute to the success of the unit, starting with two late additions to the roster.

The Giants signed veteran cornerback Fabian Moreau to the practice squad on Sept. 5. He was elevated to the active roster for the first two games of the season before being signed to the active roster prior to Week 4. The 28-year-old has played 79 and 83 percent of the defensive snaps in Weeks 4 and 5, respectively, and has racked up three pass breakups during that span. His play this season has earned him a 76.3 overall grade from Pro Football Focus, which ranks 14th among the league's cornerbacks, while his 78.0 coverage grade ranks 11th. He has surrendered just four receptions for 56 yards on 10 targets this year, good for a passer rating when targeted of 58.8. Moreau did not allow a reception against the Packers, an impressive feat considering they were going up against Aaron Rodgers and Adoree' Jackson left the game with an injury.

Less than three weeks ago, the Giants made a similar move when they signed linebacker Jaylon Smith to the practice squad. Only 11 days later, Smith was signed to the active roster, and the veteran has already made a big impact. The 27-year-old has played 72 snaps across the last two games and has recorded 12 total tackles (seven solo) with one tackle for loss. For the second consecutive game, Smith has earned one of the highest PFF grades on defense, this week receiving a 73.3 mark. While in limited action, Smith's 81.9 overall grade on the season ranks seventh among all linebackers, aided by his strong 77.0 coverage grade. After playing 50 percent of the snaps in Week 4, that number rose to 65 percent against the Packers and his role could continue to grow as the season goes on.

Despite the fact that neither player broke training camp with the team, both Moreau and Smith have played crucial roles in the Giants winning four of their first five games and the team having the ninth-best scoring defense (18.6 points allowed per game).

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