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Cover 4

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Cover 4: What we learned about the Giants


The crew reacts to the 26-25 loss to the Los Angeles Rams at MetLife Stadium:

John Schmeelk: For the second straight week, Giants fans have seen the "Full Wink" experience against two top quarterbacks in Jalen Hurts and Matthew Stafford. What do I mean by that, you ask? He has brought the heat more than any other defensive coordinator in the league for two straight weeks. According to early tracking by Pro Football Focus, Martindale sent at least five men on the rush on 84.6 percent of the Rams' pass plays in Week 17, a league-high. It barely topped last week's 83.7 blitz rate against Philadelphia, which also led the NFL.

Martindale has put the onus on the opposing quarterback to get the ball out quickly, and while the overall pressure numbers from both games aren't overly impressive (eight against the Rams and 12 against the Eagles), the aggressive posture did impact how their opponents were able to play. Stafford had an average time to throw of just 2.16 seconds and an average depth of target of only 5.4 yards (2.6 seconds and 8.5 yards are his season-long averages). It's why the Rams had only two passes of 20 or more yards, one of which was a short completion to Puka Nacua that turned into an 80-yard gain because of a missed tackle.

The week prior, the Eagles had only three completions of 20 or more yards. Hurts had a depth of target of just 5.5 yards, as compared to a 9.1 rate over the course of the 2023 season. His average time to throw of 2.67 seconds was almost a half-second lower than his season-long mark of 3.12 seconds. Martindale's blitzing sped up the process of two of the better quarterbacks in the NFL and gave the Giants a chance to win both games. If it wasn't for some missed opportunities both weeks, one or both could have been a victory.

Dan Salomone: You could basically copy and paste my takeaway from last week. At the bye, general manager Joe Schoen talked about how seasons can go one of two ways when they start like the Giants' did. But this group refused to go down without a fight. As their playoff hopes became extinguished, the Giants have shown over the last few weeks against playoff contenders that they are going to play hard until the bitter end. However, it makes 2023 no easier to swallow for the team and fans.

"First of all, a lot of credit to (Giants Head) Coach (Brian) Daboll and the Giants," Rams coach Sean McVay said at the top of his postgame press conference. "They gave us everything that we had, and there are a lot of things that we can learn from. We're never going to take for granted being able to get wins. … I thought Coach Martindale did a great job of applying pressure. We had our chances, but they did a good job of being able to create some of the issues that we had, whether it was turning the ball over, or taking sacks, and it'd be a great opportunity for us to be able to look at this, learn from it, and then move forward next week the right way."

View photos from the Giants' Week 17 matchup against the Los Angeles Rams.

Lance Medow: The best way to describe Sunday's contest against the Rams was a game of missed opportunities for the Giants. Five offensive penalties, a missed extra point, and one failed two-point conversion highlighted the list with the first item the costliest. All five penalties on offense were against the line and tight ends. Three of the four holding penalties came in the fourth quarter and wiped out 64 total yards. These plays had a cumulative effect and made it much more difficult for the Giants to finish drives and put points on the board.

It's not so much the volume of penalties but when they came in the game. Case in point, the Giants were called for a hold on second-and-goal from the Rams 10-yard line early in the fourth. Instead of knocking on the door of the end zone, the Giants were backed up to the 20-yard line and had to settle for a 32-yard field goal, pulling them within one. On the very next possession, with a fresh set of downs at their own 36-yard line, Tyrod Taylor completed a 47-yard pass to Jalin Hyatt, but a holding penalty against made that disappear. The drive ultimately stalled at the Rams 33-yard line, where the Giants lost a yard on a fourth-and-one. This theme continued on the next possession as well with another hold wiping out a 15-yard run by Taylor on first-and-10 from the Giants 28-yard line. Instead of advancing to their own 43-yard line, they moved back to the 18 and a few plays later were forced to punt. Three plays accounting for 64 yards were nullified by penalties, and the Giants posted only three points on those three possessions combined.

The Giants recorded at least one negative play (sack, penalty, run for a loss) on 11 of their 13 possessions. Throw in two missed kicks, a turnover and two turnover on downs, and you'll easily overshadow two touchdowns for 80+ yards.

Matt Citak: Slowing down Kyren Williams and the Rams' running game was one of the top priorities for the Giants, but the second-year back was able to find the end zone a career-high three times on runs of four, two and 28 yards. Add in wide receiver Puka Nacua's two carries for 19 yards, and the defense ended up surrendering a total of 106 yards on 22 carries on the ground, or 4.8 yards per carry. Stopping the run has been a struggle all season. With one game remaining, the unit ranks 29th in yards, 31st in touchdowns and 30th in yards per attempt allowed on the ground. When looking at the entire season, the Giants held only three opponents to under 100 rushing yards. Shoring up the middle of the defense could be a priority for general manager Joe Schoen this offseason.

While on the topic of the defense, the performance of Dane Belton cannot go unnoticed. NFL reserves are taught to always remain ready, as you never know when you might get your opportunity. Well, the second-year safety exemplified that to a T on Sunday. When starting safety Jason Pinnock went down, Belton stepped up and put together one of the most dominant outings we've seen from a Giants defender in a while, and on only 74 percent of the defensive snaps. Belton played a significant part in the team slowing down Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, who entered this matchup as the hottest quarterback in the NFL. Stafford had a 14-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his five games prior to Week 17. But Belton picked him off twice, while also adding a fumble recovery, to become the first Giant since Stevie Brown in 2012 to finish a game with two interceptions and a fumble recovery. The 23-year-old did not allow a single reception on 26 coverage snaps as he helped contain Stafford to an 85.0 passer rating, his lowest since Week 11. Not only that, but Belton also showed tremendous effort when he chased down Nacua on the rookie receiver's 80-yard reception. While Brian Daboll praised Belton for the takeaways, it was the safety's hustle on this pass play that the head coach was most excited about.

"I know he had the turnovers, but the one play that I was really impressed with is the play that they broke out for the long gain on the hitch route and his chase, to run down there and to finish, he showed some good long speed," Daboll told reporters Monday. "Again, running to the ball when you think a guy might score, I just thought the effort he had on that play was indicative of what the young man is about."

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