For the first time this season, the Giants will try to snap a two-game losing streak when they take the field at MetLife Stadium on Sunday against the Washington Commanders.
The two teams will get to know each other quite well over the next few weeks. Following Sunday's matchup, the Giants will head south for a rematch against the Commanders just two weeks later. While Washington will be off the week between the two games, the Giants will take on yet another division rival when the Philadelphia Eagles come to town.
Washington enters this contest as one of the hottest teams in the league having won three consecutive games and six of their last seven. On the other hand, the Giants had a couple of extra days to prepare for this matchup following last week's Thanksgiving game.
Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale and special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey met with the media Wednesday ahead of the NFC East showdown.
Here are five things we learned Wednesday.
1. Options on O-line; Neal 'adds some juice'
The Giants have dealt with a rash of injuries throughout the season, especially across the offensive line. In last week's loss to the Cowboys, the only members playing from the Week 1 starting O-line were left tackle Andrew Thomas and right guard Mark Glowinski. Jack Anderson lined up at left guard for what was only his second career start, while Nick Gates started at center and Tyre Phillips at right tackle.
With center Jon Feliciano and guard Ben Bredeson returning to practice this week, it is yet to be determined who will start at left guard and center against the Commanders. Mike Kafka, along with coach Brian Daboll earlier in the week, told the media on Wednesday that the team is currently cycling through some players in practice to find the best combination of linemen.
"We're rotating some of those guys to get them (in)," Kafka said. "Some of it is by, it's this time of the season where guys are dinged up, we're trying to make sure that we keep guys fresh but then also putting guys in those spots to get a look at them."
Another starter who appears to be inching closer to a return is Evan Neal. The rookie right tackle has been sidelined since injuring his knee in Week 7. But after getting in a couple of limited practices ahead of the game against the Lions, Neal was back practicing this week. His offensive coordinator certainly seemed happy to have him back on the practice field.
"Obviously, Evan is a good player and he adds some juice to the o-line room in what he brings," said the offensive coordinator. "I'm excited for him and I think today he's taking it day by day and continue to work on all those fundamental things that we talked about earlier."
2. Kayvon 'on the rise'
Although the result of last week's Thanksgiving matchup was not what the GIants were hoping for, one bright spot was the performance of Kayvon Thibodeaux. The rookie outside linebacker went into the game with three quarterback hits in his first eight games. In Week 12 alone, the 21-year-old registered five quarterback hits on Dak Prescott, while Pro Football Focus had him down for nine total pressures.
Thibodeaux was all over the field against the Cowboys, which Wink Martindale noted was the rookie's "best game to date." Clearly, the outside linebacker has impressed with his performance on the field, but it sounds as if he's done just as much off the field to excite his defensive coordinator.
"I just have confidence in him," Martindale said about the fifth overall pick. "I just know that he's on the rise, he's on the come. He's much better than what I originally expected as far as all the other little stuff. I'm not saying that just him personally, I'm saying rookies, he's much further ahead than most of the rookies in his class as far as how he prepares for the game and his knowledge of the game already and of the defense itself."
3. DJ's rushing
The Giants' offense has enjoyed a lot of success running the football this season, ranking among the best in the league. Daniel Jones has played a big role in helping the Giants rush for 151.1 yards per game, the sixth-highest mark in the NFL. Jones is averaging a career-high 41.0 rushing yards per game this season as he has already set new career-marks with 451 yards and four touchdowns.
Despite his solid rushing production on the year, Jones has not done a ton with his legs in recent weeks. Over the last four games, the fourth-year pro has rushed for just 108 total yards, averaging 27.0 yards per game. His number of rush attempts are also down as he averaged 8.3 carries in the first seven games but only 5.3 over his last four. Kafka noted that quarterback runs are still a part of every game plan, but he tipped his hat to opposing defenses for doing a good job lately of preparing for Jones' legs.
"I think defenses have done a good job of defending that," said the offensive coordinator. "When we look at the schemes of how we get DJ on the perimeter, some teams might play the defensive end just a little bit different so that they take away the QB run if that's being effective. We got to be flexible and create complements off of those things. That's where we're at right now within the season is what are we doing really well, how can we build complements off those things? And then we have to go and execute it."
In last week's win over the Atlanta Falcons, the Commanders allowed QB Marcus Mariota to gain 49 yards on just six carries (8.2 avg.). Washington also surrendered rushing touchdowns to Texans QB Davis Mills and Eagles QB Jalen Hurts in their two previous games.
4. Slowing down Robinson, Commanders run game
During their current two-game losing streak, the Giants have struggled to limit opponents in the run game. The Cowboys gashed the Giants for 169 yards on the ground on Thanksgiving, only four days after the Lions gained 160 rushing yards at MetLife Stadium. The team is 1-3 this season when allowing their opponent to run for 150 or more yards, which has led to the defense ranking 26th in rushing yards per game (138.9) and 30th in yards per attempt (5.2).
"We're just going to have to get 11 hats to the football, and right now statistically, our run defense isn't very good," Martindale said Wednesday. "We need to continue to work on fundamentals and technique and getting everybody to the football. When you start putting in all the other runs, the wide receiver sweeps and all the other plays off of it, I think run averages are up across the league, but I think we need to get better at it."
The defense will have another tough challenge this weekend as they try to contain a Commanders run game that has enjoyed a lot of success over the last month. Since Week 9, Washington is averaging 154.5 rushing yards per game while topping the 150-yard rushing mark in each of their last three outings. Their rushing attack is led by Brian Robinson Jr., who has totaled 467 yards on the ground this season. The rookie back is coming off the best game of his career in which he reached the century mark for the first time in the NFL, totaling 105 yards on 18 carries (5.8 avg.) while adding two receptions for 20 yards and a touchdown.
"He's a load," the defensive coordinator said about Robinson. "He ran over that corner from Atlanta. He seeks out contact, so he's going to be another one of those tough backs that we're going to have to get a lot of people to the ball to get him down."
Antonio Gibson is another member of the Washington backfield that cannot be overlooked. Gibson has carried the ball 130 times for 476 yards this season, good for an average of just 3.7 yards per carry, but has also caught 40 passes for an additional 306 yards and two scores. The defense will have to keep their eyes on the dual-threat running back.
5. 'Good to see' Bellinger back out there
Evan Neal isn't the only Giants rookie looking to make his return to the field on Sunday. Similar to Neal, tight end Daniel Bellinger was also injured during the Week 7 game in Jacksonville when he suffered a serious eye injury. Bellinger had been developing into a key part of the offense prior to the injury with 15 receptions and three total touchdowns from Weeks 2-6. The team hopes it can get its starting tight end back on the field for this weekend's important divisional matchup.
"Daniel (Bellinger) has done a good job," said Kafka. "He had a good day yesterday; it was good to see him out there and bouncing around in the pads. Any time you can add another guy to the offense gives you some flexibility from a personnel standpoint and then gives you some flexibility from an execution standpoint."
In Bellinger's absence, the Giants have relied on two unlikely sources for production out of the tight end position. Tanner Hudson signed with the Giants towards the end of training camp and had just three receptions for 40 yards through Week 7. But in the two games following Bellinger's injury, Hudson finished with three receptions in each one, totaling 82 yards on the six catches. Additionally, Lawrence Cager has helped fill in over the last month after joining the practice squad on October 18. Cager has caught five passes for 49 yards over the last three games, including his first career touchdown.
"I'd say this, I think the guys that we had in, they stepped up," the offensive coordinator said about the team's tight ends. "We had a great 'next man up' mentality, really throughout all these injuries that we've had. Guys have stepped in, they've played huge roles for us as an offense. They've stepped in and done everything they can. They've played their butt off.
"Really, when I'm looking at that, obviously when Bellinger comes in – he does a good job and he goes and does his job. That's what we're going to ask these guys to do, whether it's the run game, whether it's the pass game. We're asking our guys to go out there, run the fundamentals and techniques that we ask them and play as hard as they can. Our guys are doing that. That's one thing you can build on."
Once again, the New York Giants are bringing back their classic blue uniforms from the '80s and '90s this Sunday as part of two Legacy Games presented by Quest.