The Giants defense continues to improve as the team heads the stretch:
Damon Harrison moves exceptionally well on a football field for a man who is listed at 343 pounds, but he's never been quicker than he was today when asked if the Giants' defense is the NFL's best.
"No sir, we're not," the standout defensive tackle said on a conference call today.
Whether it's modesty, fear of jinxing an impressive run, or a refusal to take credit when the team hasn't clinched a playoff berth, neither Harrison nor any other player is prepared to say the Giants are the best at anything. But no defense has played better the last two weeks than the Giants, and that has them poised to join the postseason tournament for the first time in five years.
The Giants yesterday defeated the Detroit Lions, 17-6, the first time they did not allow a touchdown since the final game of the 2013 season. Last week, they topped the Dallas Cowboys, 10-7. That's one touchdown allowed in 26 opposing possessions in two weeks.
Although they rank 15th in the NFL in yards allowed (320.6), the Giants are third in scoring defense (20.8 points per game). They have allowed more than 24 points just once all season (in a 29-17 loss to Washington on Sept. 25).
The Giants can clinch their first playoff berth since 2011 with a victory Thursday night in Philadelphia. If they get there, it will be largely because of the season-long outstanding play of the defense. But they're not about to accept applause for the fine work they've done thus far.
"You hear me say it time and time again, we're still not where we should be or where we want to be right now," Harrison said. "We've had some really good moments and we've had some not-so-great moments. You can ask anyone around the defense, any player or coach, and they'll tell you. We're still not where we need to be as a defense. It was great to have some successes every now and then, but we just want to be more consistent."
Eli Manning has faced NFL defenses for 13 seasons, so he has no trouble identifying a good one. But when asked if the Giants have the NFL's best defense, Manning followed the path cleared by Harrison.
"I don't know," he said. "I haven't seen every defense or played against every defense. I haven't played against our defense aside from practice. I think our defense is playing extremely well. They're holding teams to six, seven points the last two weeks. Getting turnovers and have been strong all year long. They're playing good football. We have to do our part offensively. If we play smart and protect the football, make some plays
when we have opportunities and our defense keeps playing the way that they're playing, we'll be a strong team."
Is this the best defense the Giants have had since he joined the team in 2004?
"Again, I've been a part of some good teams and defenses that have gotten hot at the right time," Manning said.
"Gotten after quarterbacks. Again, our defense is playing extremely well. It's fun to watch them and great to have them on our side."
Manning is understandably more concerned with the offense, which has scored three touchdowns in two games, all on passes he's thrown, including two to Odell Beckham, Jr. The Giants are 24th in league in scoring, averaging 22.7 points a game. The offensive players believe they must do more to support the defense, a topic some players addressed after the victory yesterday.
"(The defense is) huge," guard Justin Pugh said. "We have total faith in them and you have a fourth quarter pass rush. They've been outstanding. Teams aren't running the ball. It's great. We've got to put some more points up so they can just pin their ears back and get some sacks. Move it that way. But we'll continue to get better."
"I feel like we left some meat on the bone," said Beckham, who had team-high totals of six receptions for 64 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown. "The breakout game is coming soon.
"I said it before, I heard that offense wins games and defense wins championships. If they keep playing like that, I guess we have nothing to worry about. At the same time, going back to the greed thing, I just want more. I want to see Vic (Victor Cruz) in the end zone twice, I want to see Shep (Sterling Shepard) in the end zone twice. I want to see the running backs rush for 175 yards total. Putting up 35, 40 points a game. That's just how I am. I like seeing the numbers. Video game numbers. As selfish as it is for me to request that every single time and not be okay with anything less than that, that's something that I'm working on."
If nothing else, it would certainly help a defense that is playing as well as any in the NFL right now.
*The Giants did not practice fully today. But if they did, the following players would have sat out: cornerback Janoris Jenkins (back), linebacker Jonathan Casillas (knee), defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (core muscle), offensive linemen Will Beatty (lower leg), and Marshall Newhouse (shoulder), running back Shane Vereen (triceps) and quarterback Ryan Nassib (right elbow).
Players limited in practice include linebacker Keenan Robinson (shoulder), long snapper Zak DeOssie (hamstring), defensive end Owa Odighizuwa (knee) and safety Nat Berhe (concussion).