EAST RUTHEFORD, N.J. – The Giants were unable to cross the finish line in Buffalo last Sunday, but that didn't prevent the defense from making significant strides in the 14-9 loss to the Bills.
The unit held the NFL's third highest-scoring team without a point for three quarters. It limited the Bills to 297 yards, about 100 under their per-game average. Buffalo's 5.0-yard average per play was a season low for a Giants opponent. The defense forced two turnovers.
The Giants will try to break a four-game losing streak when they host the Washington Commanders on Sunday, but for a defense that allowed 524 yards, 9.7 yards-per-play and 31 points two weeks ago in Miami, the arrow is certainly pointing up.
"Obviously disappointed with the outcome, but I think that our effort and execution, the communication, we did a lot of good things Sunday night against Buffalo and hope to build on that as we keep going forward," defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said today. "I like where we are going right now, we got a great challenge ahead of us with this group from Washington. We'll see what happens, we'll tee it up."
Martindale was asked what he saw in the defense in Buffalo that was different from what it had shown previously.
"I think it was the execution itself, the communication, the one play at a time mentality was there all night," Martindale said. "When you have that in this league, you got a shot. We had a different plan, we hit him (Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen) with a different counterpunch. This is the fourth time we have gone against Josh, and we had a different style of plan. He's a tremendous quarterback with some great players out there and it was a great challenge. I think that our guys took that challenge and went with it."
The Bills did not score until the first play of the fourth quarter, on a three-yard Allen pass to Deonte Hardy. The Giants regained the lead on Graham Gano's 29-yard field goal. Allen then made a play he often executes, but few other quarterbacks can pull off. He escaped a rush and fired a pinpoint pass to well-covered tight end Quintin Morris for the game-winning score with 3:48 remaining.
Washington does not have Buffalo's imposing offensive numbers, but the Commanders have an impressive group of offensive ballhandlers. Fearless second-year quarterback Sam Howell has been sacked an NFL-high 34 times, the third-most by a quarterback through his team's first six games since 1970. But Howell has thrown nine touchdown passes for 3-3 Washington and has been particularly impressive on the road, leading the Commanders to victories in Denver and Atlanta, and narrowly losing an overtime game at defending NFC champion Philadelphia.
The NFL has four running backs with at least three rushing touchdowns and two receiving scores. The Giants have played three of them – San Francisco's Christian McCaffrey and Miami's Raheem Mostert and De'Von Achane - and Sunday will see the fourth in Washington's Brian Robinson, who has rushed for 309 yards and caught 11 passes.
"He looks to run to contact," Martindale said. "He's an old Earl Campbell type runner, if you will. He's tough."
Martindale has emphasized to his players that Robinson does not go down easily.
"Everybody needs to be at the party," Martindale said. "Now, we got a fumble off him last year, but he rarely fumbles. So, that's going to be a challenge for us."
The Commanders have five players with at least 130 receiving yards, led by Terry McLaurin, who has team-high totals of 31 catches and 342 yards.
"Scary Terry, that's what I call him," Martindale said. "He's the main guy and the other guys have stepped up, too. (Jahan) Dodson's starting to come along, and Curtis Samuel, he's like a Deebo Samuels type. It's a great challenge for us."
So, how does Martindale's defense build on the good work it did last week in a hostile environment against an excellent team?
"I think that you've just got to keep building and you've just got to have the mindset, which we've had all year, of getting better every day. You just take it one day at a time," he said. "Everything hits just right, and it ended up that I think we surprised them with some things. But I think we surprised Miami with some things, too; it was we just gave up too many explosive plays. I think to take something away, you've got to give something up. I know that they had some runs there toward the end of the game, but we were taking away the passing game. We limited Josh to 11 yards scrambling. ... He usually scrambles for more yardage than that. His quarterback rating was down, all those different things that you choose from because of the things that we did.
"So, to take all that away, you are playing with a light box, so there is a couple runs that we need to play better, but we also knew there was a chance that could happen as well."
View photos of the Giants on the practice field ahead of the Week 7 matchup against the Washington Commanders.
*Nothing new today on the Daniel Jones front. The Giants' quarterback was again limited to throwing at practice and did not participate in team drills. Coach Brian Daboll offered no clues as to whether Jones will face Washington on Sunday.
"When the doctors tell me he's ready to play, he'll be ready to play," Daboll said.
Tyrod Taylor, who played the entire game in Buffalo last week, will start again if Jones can't play.
*Saquon Barkley, who returned to action in Buffalo after missing three games with a sprained ankle, reported, "no setbacks" after participating in 60 snaps and touching the ball 28 times, including 24 rushing attempts.
"Obviously, just taking not playing in three weeks and playing an NFL game and having the workload that I had, you're obviously going to be a little sore," Barkley said. "But we've got a great strength staff here, great trainers here, and I have a great team outside of this, so just continuing to take care of my body and stay strong for this coming week and for the rest of the season."
*Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka was asked about the end of the first half last week, when Barkley was stopped short of the goal line and time expired before the Giants could run another play.
"I just think at the end of the day – there was communication at the end of day," Kafka said. "I've just got to do a better job of making sure that it's crystal clear. We'll go out there and execute it better the next time.'
Asked if he wanted Tyrod Taylor to pass the ball, Kafka said, "Again, it just kind of goes back to coach-to-quarterback communication. I've got to do a better job there."
*Guard Shane Lemieux has a had a third consecutive season cut short by injury.
Lemieux was placed on injured reserve today after tearing his biceps in practice yesterday. He played in four games this season, most notably on Sept. 21 in San Francisco, where he started at left guard and played all 50 offensive snaps. Lemieux was inactive in the season opener vs. Dallas and at Miami two weeks ago.
Asked if Lemieux is out for the year, Daboll said, "I would say probably yes. It looks like that."
Injuries limited Lemieux to just one game in both 2021 (knee) and 2022 (toe). As a rookie fifth-round draft choice in 2020, Lemieux played in 12 games with starts in each of the last nine games at left guard.
Lemieux is one of several offensive linemen beset by injuries this season. All-Pro left tackle Andrew Thomas has missed five games with a hamstring injury he suffered in the season opener. His replacement, Joshua Ezeudu, was placed on injured reserve this week after injuring his toe last week in Buffalo. Rookie center John Michael Schmitz has missed two games and Matt Peart one with shoulder injuries. Thomas, Schmitz and Peart all missed practice today. Right tackle Evan Neal, who has an ankle injury, returned to practice on a limited basis.
To replace Lemieux on the roster, the Giants signed center Sean Harlow off the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad. Harlow was with the team in training camp from Aug. 1-29. It's the second time this year he has joined the Giants after another lineman's injury. Harlow first signed with the team after J.C. Hassenauer tore his triceps in practice on July 30.
Harlow had been on the Cowboy's practice squad since Aug. 31. Harlow was elevated to Dallas' roster for their Week 3 game at Arizona and played four snaps on special teams.
Harlow, 6-4 and 285 pounds, has played in 34 regular-season games with eight starts (three at center, five at left guard) for Arizona (2019), Atlanta (2021-22) and Dallas. He has also played in one postseason game.
Harlow was the Cardinals' fourth-round draft choice in 2019, from Oregon State.
*In addition to the players listed above, players on the injury list who were limited in practice were Barkley (ankle), kicker Graham Gano (left ankle) and defensive back Adoree' Jackson (neck).
Wide receiver Wan'Dale Robinson, who has not practiced on Wednesdays to reduce stress on his surgically repaired knee, worked fully today. Offensive lineman Mark Glowinski (quad/ankle) and defensive back Cor'Dale Flott (ankle/shoulder) practiced fully after they were limited yesterday.
View photos of the MetLife Stadium field design for Week 7's Legacy Game - presented by Quest®