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Game Preview: Andrew Thomas, Evan Neal charged with protecting Daniel Jones

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants have had regular meetings with some of the NFL's best edge rushers since the beginning of the season.

On Kickoff Weekend, they faced Tennessee's Jeffrey Simmons and Bud Dupree. They also lined up against Carolina's Brian Burns; Dallas' Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence and Dorance Armstrong; Green Bay's Rashan Gary and, last week, Baltimore's Patrick Queen and Justin Houston.

Those confrontations were good prep work for the challenge they will face tomorrow in Jacksonville. The Jaguars will attack Daniel Jones and the Giants' offense with rookie Travon Walker and fourth-year pro Josh Allen, outside linebackers who were the first and seventh choices in their respective NFL drafts. In the first six games, they have combined for 39 tackles, including 22 solo and seven for loss, 4.0 sacks and 13 quarterback hits.

"They're really talented and can affect the game," Jones said. "Can obviously get to the passer and stop the run as well. Those are two really good players, and we'll have a plan to handle them."

"They're really good," Giants coach Brian Daboll said. "Walker is the first pick of the (2022) draft, and Josh Allen is a dynamic edge rusher. He has a knack for getting to the quarterback, being a ball disrupter. He can drop. He's a really good player. He's done a good job there for a while. And Travon, having seen him at Georgia, he's very stout on the edge. Long. He's a good player. We'll have our work cut out for us."

That includes anyone on the Giants charged with keeping Allen and Walker away from Jones, but particularly tackles Andrew Thomas on the left side and rookie Evan Neal on the right.

"It'll be a good matchup," Daboll said.

Now in his third season, Thomas has become arguably the NFL's best player at his position. He relishes the opportunity to block the opposition's finest pass rushers.

"That's the beauty of the NFL, playing tackle," Thomas said. "You're going against some of the best athletes in the NFL every week. So, it really doesn't get any easier. They may have different moves or different counters, but every week it's a dog fight at that position."

Both Thomas and Neal are very familiar with Walker. Thomas was his teammate at the University of Georgia in 2019. Walker was then a defensive tackle, so they only occasionally went head-to-head in practice.

"I know Travon well," Thomas said. "What you see now is exactly what we saw at Georgia. We knew he was a great player, first with the physical gifts he has. Just being that big (6-5, 275), that powerful and that fast, he creates problems. I think the next step for Travon is just the way – and he was like that at Georgia – but the intensity that he plays with. Sometimes guys are real talented; they'll take plays off. But he runs to the ball. He plays the run. And it's not just him. Their whole defense does that. You can tell they harp on that in defensive meetings, being physical, running to the ball. They play hard."

Neal faced Walker twice in his final three collegiate games last season at the University of Alabama – a 41-24 loss in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 4 and a 33-18 victory in the CFP National Championship Game on Jan. 10. Walker had 1.0 sack and a career-high seven pressures in the title game.

"He's a real powerful, explosive, strong guy, long arms," Neal said. "Josh Allen, he's a real fast guy. Isn't as heavy and he plays with a high motor based off what I've seen."

Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka knows his young tackles will face a difficult test tomorrow.

"Those guys are very, very talented pass rushers," Kafka said. "They get off the edge, so you have to know where they're at on every single play."

Thomas is the only Giant to play all 396 offensive snaps this season. He has drawn high praise for his performance. A good part of Thomas' success is due to his meticulous preparation.

"We watch the scheme to understand just how the defense plays," he said. "But when it comes to pass-pro it's more individualized, trying to figure out what's the go-to moves. How do they respond to chips? What games they run. All those different things.

"As far as pass rushing, we actually have it broken down to where on each individual they have 150 clips of different rushes in all the games they play. That helps you get a better read than watching a full game, because of the way it's a run play or it's a play action or all the different stuff versus where you can just watch the drop back to see what their go-to moves are."

While Thomas' play has been seamless, Neal had one well-publicized blip against Dallas on Sept. 26, when Lawrence slipped past him for three sacks of Jones. Armstrong had one sack that night.

"You're not always going to have your best game," Daboll said. "You're probably going to wish you could do things a little bit better. That's everybody, not just Evan. Come in, see what you can improve on, work hard to improve and get ready to play the next week."

Neal has played well in the Giants' three victories since that night.

"Nobody wants to play like that, but the only thing you can do is move forward," Neal said. "I feel like my teammates believed in me. Even after that game, they gave me nothing but encouragement. Encouraging words and stuff like that. Games like that you've just got to put in the past. Learn from them and just focus on getting better."

That's exactly what Neal did. And now he and the rest of the Giants' O-line will face perhaps their sternest test of the season.

View rare photos of the all-time history between the New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars.

*The 5-1 Giants have the best record of any NFL team playing in Week 7. The other teams with zero or one loss – 6-0 Philadelphia and 5-1 Minnesota and Buffalo – all have byes.

*The Giants have won three consecutive games by a total of 17 points. Jacksonville has lost three in a row by a combined 22 points. The Jaguars are 2-4 but have outscored their opponents, 138-114. Their two victories were by a combined 62-10. The total score of their four losses was 104-76.

*The Jaguars lead the all-time series, 4-3, including victories in all three games in Jacksonville (1996, 2006 and 2014) and in the last two meetings (2014 and 2018).

*The Giants have outscored their opponents, 127-113. They are the fifth team since 2000 to start 5-1 or better and have a point differential below 15 in the first six games of the season. The other four teams – 2003 Panthers, 2019 Saints, 2020 Bears and 2021 Packers – all made the playoffs.

*Three of the top seven selections in the 2022 NFL Draft will play in this game: No. 1 Travon Walker, No. 5 Kayvon Thibodeaux and No. 7 Evan Neal.

*Jacksonville coach Doug Pederson was 8-2 against the Giants in his five seasons as the Philadelphia Eagles' coach (2016-20). His averaged 26.3 points-per-game in those contests.

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