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5 Things We Learned

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5 Things We Learned: Kayvon Thibodeaux hitting his stride

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It was a beautiful day Thursday at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center as the Giants continued their preparations for this weekend's matchup against the Jets.

Giants coordinators Wink Martindale, Mike Kafka and Thomas McGaughey took part in their weekly media sessions with reporters prior to the start of practice to discuss the upcoming game.

Here are five things we learned Thursday.

1. Wink: Kayvon 'makes everything roll' for defense

The Giants' pass rush has come alive recently. The team entered Week 7 with five sacks on the season, but they more than doubled that number in Sunday's win over the Commanders with six takedowns of Sam Howell. Defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence led the way with two, but right behind him was outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux with 1.5.

After not registering a sack in the first two games of the season, Thibodeaux has been on a roll ever since. The second-year linebacker has at least one sack in four of the last five games, with 5.5 sacks total during that span, and has also picked up 19 total pressures over that stretch, according to Pro Football Focus. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale praised Thibodeaux's performance and complimented the young edge rusher for his recent play.

"I've said this every time I come up here, I think he's a very good football player and I think he's having a really good season," said Martindale. "I mean, you're talking about a guy in the NFL that as an edge rusher, as a linebacker who played 68 out of the 69 plays, which is a rarity in itself. I think that—where's he at now, five-and-a-half sacks? He makes everything roll for us. I know no matter what he does, it might not reach what some people think he should be doing, but I think he's a hell of a football player. I'm glad that we have him. I'm glad that I've had the opportunity to coach him."

View photos of the Giants on the practice field ahead of the Week 8 matchup against the New York Jets.

2. Kafka: Hyatt, Robinson growing

Over the last two weeks, wide receiver Jalin Hyatt has seen his playing time increase significantly. Through the first five weeks of the season, Hyatt played more than 50 percent of the team's offensive snaps only once and saw a total of five targets. In the last two games, the rookie wideout has been on the field for over 70 percent of snaps and totaled nine targets, and the results have followed. He caught a season-high three passes in Week 6 against the Bills before reeling in two passes for 75 yards in last week's win over the Commanders. Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka indicated the rookie's role could continue to grow as the season continues.

"I'd say he's right on schedule," said Kafka. "Yeah, he's right on schedule, working every single day, looking to improve on all the little things that we talk about in our individual meetings, all the fundamentals, the techniques and getting more accustomed to the offense each week. You can see that growth…

"Jalin's doing a great job in his role, every week's different. I'd say, Jalin's had some good production downfield a little bit, so I think he's finding a role. I think as the weeks go on and the season goes on, maybe it grows a little bit more from there, but he's right on schedule."

Wan'Dale Robinson's rookie season was cut short last year, so the 22-year-old in some ways is still finding his footing in the NFL. Robinson missed the first two games of the year due to last year's torn ACL, and yet he still ranks second on the team with 23 receptions. Kafka has seen Robinson and Hyatt lean on each other, and the rest of the wide receiver room, since the latter was drafted, and believes the entire room has helped the two youngsters grow.

"That whole receiver room is really pretty close, and they do a great job together bouncing ideas off each other and studying and prepping," the offensive coordinator said. "I think those two are really no different, they're young guys trying to learn and grow together so I think if they form a nice little friendship – it's a great leadership that we have in that room with some of those veteran guys too that kind of bring them together."

3. McFadden 'playing with a lot more confidence'

Inside linebacker Micah McFadden has quietly put together a strong start to his season. In the six games he's played, McFadden has totaled 43 tackles (25 solo), 0.5 sacks, five tackles for loss, four quarterback hits, one fumble recovery, an interception and two passes defensed. The second-year inside linebacker has stepped his game up considerably over the last two games, which has led to him earning elite marks from Pro Football Focus. In fact, the analytics site ranked McFadden as the top linebacker in the league in Week 7. While the linebacker's strong performances the last two weeks have put him on the radar for many on the national stage, Martindale told the media Thursday he's noticed McFadden's improved play going back to the start of the season.

"I think it's the entire year," the defensive coordinator said about the linebacker's performance. "I think it's been since training camp. He's playing with a lot more confidence this year and the game slowed down for him. He learned a lot last year, got his nose bloodied a little bit and he's come back, and I think he's playing really well."

Several players have contributed to the defense's turnaround in recent weeks, including McFadden and fellow inside linebacker Bobby Okereke. The veteran has registered double-digit tackles in each of the last four games while totaling six passes defensed during that span. The defensive coordinator believes the two linebackers are benefiting from playing alongside each other.

"It helps both ways that they're used to playing with each other and communicating with each other," said Martindale. "You can throw Zay (safety/inside linebacker Isaiah Simmons) in that with third-down stuff, second-and-long stuff, and I think those three have done a nice job."

4. Saquon's impact on offense

In the two games since returning from an ankle injury that sidelined him for three weeks, Saquon Barkley has averaged 108 yards from scrimmage. In that same span, Barkley has totaled seven receptions for 46 yards and a touchdown, including last week's 32-yard catch-and-run for a score. The sixth-year running back is now up to 16 receptions in just four games, which Kafka says is par for the course for the Pro Bowl back.

"I'd say Saquon's doing a great job being – obviously, he's back so it's one of those things where he's involved in the game plan, he's running the ball more," Kafka told reporters. "We can use him outside on the perimeter as a receiver. He had that long touchdown catch which was a great play by him, broke a few tackles, so I think Saquon doing a great job like he has been his whole career."

The Jets' run defense has produced mixed results this year. The unit ranks 26th in yards and 24th in yards per carry allowed this season, but their two rushing touchdowns allowed are tied for the second-fewest. Anchoring the middle of the Jets defense is linebacker C.J. Mosley. The veteran has totaled 59 tackles through six games, including nine or more in five of the six outings. Kafka noted how the offense must keep a close eye on the 2022 All-Pro linebacker on Sunday.

"He's had a ton of production," the offensive coordinator said about Mosley. "I remember him when he was in Baltimore. He had a lot of production there and a lot of production with the Jets so he's a really instinctive player, he's always around the football, he's always tackling the football. He does a great job reading the quarterback's eyes in the pass game and creates a lot of PBU's and pass breakups. Just being around the football, he kind of muddies up the picture for the quarterback, so we'll have to know where he's at every play."

5. Matchup vs. Jets offense

When the schedule first came out in May, the Giants thought they'd be facing four-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers this weekend. But following the veteran's Achilles injury, the defense will now be going up against quarterback Zach Wilson, who has has helped lead the Jets to a 3-3 record. The third-year QB has completed 60.4 percent of his passes for 1,097 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions this season for a passer rating of 73.4. Meanwhile, running back Breece Hall appears to be fully healthy after tearing his ACL under a year ago. The second-year back is averaging an impressive 6.5 yards per carry, which currently leads the NFL.

"I think that you can tell that the guy has been around greatness," Martindale said about the young Jets quarterback. "You guys know how I feel about (Jets quarterback) Aaron Rodgers. You can tell the kid's confident – he's not a kid, he's a grown man – but the guy's confidence and how it's grown playing the position. So, I've seen the improvement in the way he's running the offense. The biggest challenge that we're going to have is that running back because he's special. You can tell that he's really come back from his injury, and he's one step and gone, so we need all 11 to get to him."

The Jets have a special talent in their wide receiver room as well in the form of wide receiver Garrett Wilson. The second-year wideout, coming off his Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign in 2022, leads the Jets with 32 receptions for 369 yards and two touchdowns. The last time the Jets were on the field, Wilson caught eight passes for a season-high 90 yards. Martindale highlighted the challenge of trying to slow down the talented young receiver.

"They've got a great receiver there in New York," the defensive coordinator told the media. "He's going to make plays. You try to limit them, but he's going to make plays. You've just got to go play the next play and go."

View rare photos from the local rivalry between the Giants and Jets.

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