EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – All the news this week about false-positive COVID tests and changing schedules on the fly obscured the likelihood that the Giants will face one of their biggest challenges this season when they host the Las Vegas Raiders in MetLife Stadium.
Winners of their last two games, the Raiders are 5-2, the leaders in the AFC West and well-rested coming off their bye. The 2-6 Giants have lost three of their last four, including Monday night in Kansas City, 20-17.
"This is a very well-balanced, very well-coached, very explosive team," Coach Joe Judge said of the Raiders. "They've got a lot of weapons on offense. They've got some playmakers on defense that can really get after you in the pass game and can play very advantageous in coverage and they're very well-coached and they've got a very good special teams core."
Las Vegas is 2-0 since interim coach Rich Bisaccia replaced Jon Gruden on Oct. 11.
"Richie's a guy I've known for some time now, he's done a terrific job," Judge said.
The Giants will enter their bye week after the game and do not want to spend two weeks stewing over another loss.
"It's a big week for us," quarterback Daniel Jones said. "They all are. With the bye coming up, it's a big game for us and we'll approach it like we do for all games and make sure we're prepared and ready to go. … Everything's a little bit better coming off a win."
View rare photos of the history between the Giants and Raiders ahead of their Week 9 matchup.
The Giants couldn't corral one in Kansas City, despite holding the Chiefs to a pair of field goals in the second half. A series of mistakes and missed opportunities doomed them.
One positive to take forward was the performance of the defense. One week after holding the Carolina Panthers to three points, the high-scoring Chiefs tied their second-lowest point total of the season. In the past two games, the Giants D has allowed 23 points after allowing an average of 29.5 points through the first five weeks. The improvement mirrors the strides the defense made last year when opponents averaged 26.6 points in the first five games and 20.4 afterward.
"I think what ends up happening is we end up playing better and I end up calling the game better," defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. "Obviously, you would like that timetable to be a little bit faster. It's obviously not acceptable. Even Monday night was not acceptable - we lost the game, so I obviously could have done more and I'm sure the players felt like they could have done more. Thankfully, we have an opportunity this week against Las Vegas. I think really the thing that happens naturally with defenses is the communication becomes better over time, you get more and more comfortable working with one another. Again, I've got to obviously speed up my process in terms of figuring out where to put guys in the right spot."
That's a good place to start against the Raiders, who arrive with a formidable array of weapons. In a 33-22 victory against Philadelphia two weeks ago, quarterback David Carr completed 31 of 34 passes, a 91.2 completion percentage that was the second-highest single-game mark in history for a quarterback throwing at least 30 passes (New Orleans' Drew Brees completed 96.7% of his throws vs. Indianapolis on Dec. 16, 2019). Las Vegas has arguably the NFL's finest receiving tight end in Pro Bowler Darren Waller. Wideouts Hunter Renfrow and Bryan Edwards have combined for 56 catches. The Raiders no longer have Henry Ruggs III, who was released this week following his arrest for his involvement in a deadly auto accident.
"It'll be interesting to see this week because, with Las Vegas and their offense, the quarterback is playing at a pretty high level," Graham said. "Again, we're going through a string right now where we're going to be seeing a lot of good quarterbacks – last week, (Patrick) Mahomes, you've got Carr this week when we get back off the bye, we have Tom (Brady). But Carr (went) 31 of 34 the last time they played. After he threw that pick, he was pretty much perfect in terms of his QB rating. He has weapons all over the field, so it's going to be a challenge, but we'll see if it's clicking."
"That game against the Eagles was a clinic, an offensive clinic," safety Logan Ryan said. "He's got great command of his system and the quarterback has a lot on his plate at the line of scrimmage. I know in that system he's calling a lot of plays at the line of scrimmage. When he knows what you're in, he's calling a good play against that defense and he's taking the profit. He's an accurate thrower, he's a smart thrower of the football, he's taking care of the ball. Like I said, he's operating the quarterback position at one of the highest levels in the league right now. You've got to give him his respect. Again, a staple of what we do is we've got to make it difficult on him pre-snap in what he does and what he's seeing and not let it be the truth all the time, only the truth some of the times. Make him hopefully check into some plays that aren't ideal, so he does worse than 31 of 34."
The Giants' offense will try to dent a defense that has improved markedly under first-year coordinator Gus Bradley. Last year's Raiders were 25th in the NFL, allowing 389.1 yards a game. They're currently 14th, surrendering an average of 354.0 yards. Opposing points per game have dropped to 23.7 from 29.9.
Linebacker Denzel Perryman, acquired in a trade with Carolina on Aug. 26, is second in the NFL with 81 tackles (51 solo).
"In general, their scheme isn't overly complicated, but what they do, they do really well," offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said. "These guys are really good upfront. The linebackers are fast and active. They have good cover guys in the secondary. They make a lot of plays on the ball. They play the game the right way. They're fast, and they're physical. They disrupt both the run game and the pass game. They're playing at a really high level right now."
Both Judge and Garrett said the Raiders' defensive speed jumps out on tape.
"They have fast players, and they play fast," Garrett said. "They value playing fast. They run to the ball. Everybody sprints and hustles to the ball on every snap, and they're going to get the ball. They tackle well. There's a lot of people at the tackle, and all those fundamentals of really good defensive football is what these guys do. It's a tribute to the coaching staff and those guys they have playing over there."
Because of the NFL's new 17-game schedule, the midway point of the Giants' season will officially occur at halftime. What do the Giants want to see in the second half of the season?
"The same thing coach Judge told us, I think it was against the Rams when we were down pretty bad at halftime, he wanted to see guys keep fighting, no quit," defensive lineman Leonard Williams said. "I don't want to compare, but similar to last year, I think we had that same type of mindset of not quitting and keep fighting. We ended up being one game away from going to the playoffs. I think if we continue to fight knowing that this is a long season and our best football is ahead of us, this is the time to try to make a run."
Beating the Raiders would be a great first step.