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5 Things We Learned

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5 Things We Learned: Dexter Lawrence 'an unblockable player'

DEXTER-LAWRENCE-GN

The Giants were back at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center Thursday as they continued their preparations for Sunday's season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Brian Daboll's squad put together a late comeback in last week's game against the Los Angeles Rams, but ended up falling just short by a point. On the other side of the matchup, the Eagles lost a 15-point halftime lead to the Arizona Cardinals and wound up losing, 35-31, at home.

The Giants and Eagles last met less than two weeks ago, when the Giants headed down to Philadelphia for a Christmas Day matchup, which the Eagles won, 33-25.

Giants coordinators Wink Martindale, Mike Kafka and Thomas McGaughey met with the media Thursday for their final weekly press conferences of the season.

Here are five things we learned from the three coordinators.

1. Wink: Dex 'an unblockable player'

When the NFL announced this season's Pro Bowlers, it did not come as a surprise to see Dexter Lawrence named a starter. The fifth-year defensive lineman has put together yet another dominant season, one that saw him register 4.5 sacks, seven tackles for loss and 19 quarterback hits to go with his 61 total pressures. Heading into the season finale, Lawrence is the highest-ranked interior defensive lineman by Pro Football Focus, and is tied with San Francisco's Nick Bosa for the second-highest defender overall by the analytics site, trailing only Cleveland's Myles Garrett.

Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has had nothing but high praise for Lawrence since the veteran coach arrived in East Rutherford in early 2022. This continued on Thursday, as the defensive coordinator once again referred to Lawrence as the "centerpiece" of the defense.

"Dex has stayed Dex since I've been here," Martindale told reporters. "He was a really good player before we got here and then he had a great year last year. He hasn't changed his work ethic; he hasn't changed anything about him. I think sometimes he might put too much pressure on himself, but that's what all the great ones do. Like I said, I'm really happy for Dex."

Lawrence has now become the first Giants defensive lineman to be selected to the Pro Bowl in consecutive seasons since end Jason Pierre-Paul in 2011-12. He is also the team's first interior lineman to be selected to multiple Pro Bowls since tackle Arnie Weinmeister went to four in a row from 1950-53.

"When you say that any good defense, especially this system, where you can be most effective is when you have a center piece of the defense and he's definitely been the center piece of the defense for us," said the defensive coordinator. "And we just got to keep building this thing around him and we'll see. The sacks are a bonus, out of the nose, you know what I mean? The sacks are a bonus, and he has a way of getting to the quarterback too and I think that's what makes him so unique. I think when he wants to be he can be an unblockable player. And let's enjoy watching him play this last time here against Philly."

View photos of defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence's career with the Giants.

2. Adjusting to season's QB changes

The Giants have dealt with injuries at numerous positions this season, but none may have been affected more than the quarterback position. Daniel Jones (six), Tommy DeVito (six) and Tyrod Taylor (four) have each made multiple starts this season. While each have enjoyed some positive moments, any season with three different players starting games under center can be tough on an offense. Considering all of the adversity his unit faced, offensive coordinator Mike Kafka said he was proud of his players.

"I think when you go through the preseason, you go through the training camp and OTAs and stuff, you really try to dive deep into not only the position strengths and weaknesses, the player strengths and weaknesses, but then what schematically we do as a group when they're in there as well," Kafka said. "There's been – and every group has injuries and got next man standing up but one thing that I'm proud of with our group is (that) they had the next man up mentality. Guys stepped up, young players, veteran guys had to step up, and that's something that I'm really proud of our guys (for). They never flinched, they battled all the way through it, and I think our guys have come closer because of that."

Daboll announced earlier in the week that Taylor would start his fifth game this weekend. After coming into the game in the second half of the Week 16 matchup in Philadelphia, the veteran quarterback threw for 133 yards and a touchdown while adding two carries for 21 yards. Taylor and Darius Slayton connected on a 69-yard touchdown pass, the first of two deep touchdowns between the quarterback and wide receiver in the last two weeks.

3. Gunner 'works like a pro'

The Giants got their biggest special teams play of the season this past Sunday when Gunner Olszewski returned a punt 94 yards for a touchdown. This big play led to him being named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

Olszewski joined the Giants in Week 8 after being waived by the Pittsburgh Steelers. In his nine games with the team, the 27-year-old has returned 20 punts for 244 yards. His 12.2 yards per punt return rank as the fifth-highest in the NFL this season.

"The guy works at it," said special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey. "He's very diligent in how he goes about his day. He's a pro. He works like a pro. I think you all saw all of those things come into play when he made that play. Super proud of him and the way he's bounced back. Playing against him and then him coming over here from Pittsburgh after the troubles that he had and just really refocused on what he needed to do. Obviously, he made a big play the other day."

Olszewski's 94-yard return against the Rams was the second longest in Giants history and the longest in 95 years. Additionally, it was the team's first punt return touchdown since Dwayne Harris scored on an 80-yard return against the Jets on December 6, 2015.

View photos of the Giants on the practice field ahead of the Week 18 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles.

4. Wink talks Banks' rookie season

With one game remaining in his first NFL season, cornerback Deonte Banks has put together a solid rookie campaign. Banks ranks within the top five among rookie cornerbacks with 11 passes defensed to go with his two interceptions, 64 total tackles (53 solo) and two tackles for loss. According to PFF, Banks has been targeted 92 times and has earned a passer rating against of 84.7.

Martindale spoke Thursday about the challenges rookie cornerbacks typically face in their first season, and the bright future he sees for the 22-year-old.

"I think he did a lot of good things," the defensive coordinator told reporters. "I think that you still have to fight through – I'm saying Tae, myself, Rome, (Defensive backs Coach Jerome Henderson), who's done a great job with him, just the new things that he sees that's different in this league compared to college and he's been growing through those. The biggest jump is always from the first year to the second year so I'm expecting big things from Tae."

Banks missed the Week 17 matchup against the Rams due to a shoulder injury. It marked the rookie cornerback's first game missed this season. Banks has been limited at practice this week, but on Wednesday, Daboll told the media he's "hopeful" that Banks will be able to suit up for the season finale.

5. Injury updates

The Giants participated in a walk-through practice on Wednesday, so Thursday's session was their first real practice of the week. As noted above, Banks was listed as limited on Wednesday and Thursday as he tends to a shoulder injury.

Joining the rookie corner as limited participants on Thursday were inside linebacker Carter Coughlin (shoulder), cornerback Darnay Holmes (foot) and quarterback Tyrod Taylor (back). Center John Michael Schmitz, who went down as a non-participant on Wednesday with a shin injury, was upgraded to limited on Thursday.

But for the second consecutive day, safety Jason Pinnock (toe) did not practice. Pinnock departed Sunday's game against the Rams in the first quarter and was unable to return. In his place, second-year safety Dane Belton stepped up and registered three total takeaways (two interceptions, one fumble recovery).

The Giants placed Tyre Phillips on injured reserve earlier in the week. Phillips started nine of the last 10 games at right tackle before tearing a quad tendon last week. With him sidelined for the season finale, Matt Peart will start at right tackle this Sunday, Daboll announced Wednesday.

View rare photos of the historic rivalry between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles.