The Giants will wrap up the regular season with a road matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.
With last week's win over the Colts, the Giants are locked into the No. 6 seed. They will take on either the Minnesota Vikings or San Francisco 49ers on Wild Card Weekend. Meanwhile, the Eagles are still fighting for the NFC East crown and the conference's No. 1 seed, and will need to defeat the Giants in order to secure both.
Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale and special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey met with the media on Thursday to discuss the state of the team. Of course, the health and wellbeing of Bills safety Damar Hamlin was foremost on everyone's mind.
"I'm sure everybody's already talked about it, our thoughts and prayers are with Damar," Martindale said to open his press conference. "When you see something like that happen on a football field, really, it's the first time I've ever seen it, something of that gravity. It makes you reflect that when you tell your players you love them, you really do love them. When you break a huddle and say family, it really is family. It was a tough thing to see and, like I said, all our thoughts and prayers are with him. I think it's great how the positive side is I think he's galvanized this league with this situation and really galvanized our country. That's a positive thing that makes you think, 'hey, we're going to be alright'."
Here are five things we learned from the coordinators on Thursday.
1. Giants build 'playoff defense'
The schedule may say Week 18, but the Giants are about as healthy as they've been since the start of the season, especially on defense. Last week saw the return of Xavier McKinney to the defensive backfield. The third-year safety, who had missed the previous seven contests due to a hand injury suffered during the bye week, recorded seven total tackles in his first game back, the second-most on the team, along with a pass breakup. In addition to McKinney, it appears as if Adoree' Jackson is also nearing a return to action. The veteran cornerback practiced on a limited basis all of last week before being listed as doubtful for Week 16. He was a limited participant on Wednesday and Thursday of this week as well.
Even without two of their starters in the secondary for most of the second half of the season, the defense was able to step up and help the Giants secure a trip to the postseason. The unit held two of their last three opponents to 12 points or less, which led to two key victories. On the season, Martindale's unit has the fifth-best third down defense (35.1 percent) and the ninth-best red zone defense (51.7 percent). Regardless of the success, Martindale cannot wait to get his starting defense back to full strength.
"Oh yeah, I think it makes us better," the coordinator said about McKinney and Jackson returning to the secondary. "How much better? We'll see. I think that the thing that's exciting to me is that we've come here, and we've built a playoff defense. Nobody can argue that, and I think we're starting to really catch our stride. They understand the value of each snap as it gets closer towards the end of the year. The young ones and the vets."
View photos from practice as the Giants get ready for their regular-season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles.
2. DJ's & Saquon's consistency
Daniel Jones is in the midst of his best season in the NFL. His 3,205 passing yards, 92.5 passer rating, 708 rushing yards and seven rushing scores are all personal bests, while his 67.2 completion percentage and 1.1 interception percentage would both set new franchise records. The interception percentage is also the lowest among all starting quarterbacks this season. While all of these numbers are impressive, perhaps the most important stat from the fourth-year quarterback is the fact that he's started all 16 games this year, the most of his four-year career.
"Daniel does all the right things on the field, off the field, prepping his body," Mike Kafka said about Jones' durability. "He spends a bunch of time doing that type of stuff, kind of the prehab for those soft tissue things and just the kind of normal aches and pains of a football season. He does a good job of taking care of it and on the field, obviously, protecting himself, getting up and out of bounds and sliding and doing those type of things that also I think helped."
Jones isn't the only key member of the offense to start every game this season. Saquon Barkley has made all 16 starts this year, the first time he hasn't missed a game since his rookie campaign. It's no coincidence that he has also set a new career-high with 1,312 rushing yards. Kafka praised the running back's skillset for his career year while also tipping his cap to the performance of the O-line and everyone on the offense.
"I think, I'm sure Saquon would say the same thing, on offense it's an 11-man operation," said the offensive coordinator. "The guys up front – it starts up front – those guys have got to set the tempo and then Saquon's going to feed off of them, work off of them. I think Saquon is doing a good job of trusting himself, trusting his eyes, trusting his landmarks and all the fundamentals and techniques that we talk about. I think that's what you're seeing. Obviously, he's a talented player, so he gets out in space and he makes the plays in space that we expect him to."
3. Collins went through 'humbling experience'
Following three seasons with the Washington Commanders, Landon Collins had remained unsigned before he joined the Giants practice squad on October 7. The three-time Pro Bowler was elevated the maximum of three times in Weeks 7, 8 and 15 before he was finally signed to the active roster on December 22. In the two games since, the 28-year-old has played his finest football of the season.
Collins played 46 percent of the team's defensive snaps against the Vikings on Christmas Eve and picked up his first sack and pass breakup of the season, along with four total tackles. Against the Colts this past weekend, he made the play of the game when he jumped in front of a Nick Foles pass and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown. Collins did this on 55 percent of the defensive snaps and again finished with four total tackles.
Martindale commended the eighth-year veteran for everything that he has been through, and for continuing to put in the hard work all year long no matter the circumstances.
"The pick-6 was great, it was great," the defensive coordinator told the media. "He was in a very humbling position coming back to New York. The thing that I like to see about that is that he kept working, kept working, kept working. Had him for this game, had him up for Jacksonville, then we had one more call-up and selfishly I wanted to get him up for the Washington game and then we were ready to get him on the roster. It just goes to show you that you keep working, you keep battling, you keep trying, eventually you'll break through. I'm really happy for him. He calls himself a hybrid now if you want to know. I told him not one of whatever those little hybrids are, it's got be a sports car hybrid if there's such a thing."
4. Dex a 'centerpiece' of defense
While several players have been enjoying career years, it would be difficult to argue against the team's biggest breakout star this year being Dexter Lawrence. The fourth-year defensive lineman leads the Giants with a career-high 7.5 sacks and 28 quarterback hits. No other Giant has more than 13 QB hits (Kayvon Thibodeaux). Lawrence's two forced fumbles, three pass breakups and 68 total tackles are also new personal bests, and helped play a part in the 25-year-old earning his first Pro Bowl selection this season.
Martindale has been a part of many successful defenses throughout his coaching career. The defensive coordinator told the media that every great defense has an elite talent, and for the Giants, Lawrence has become that guy.
"Every great defense has a centerpiece," said Martindale. "You go back and look at the defense that we're building with the great defenses of the past, they always have a great centerpiece. And he has definitely become the centerpiece of our defense and I think it's awesome. I told him yesterday I was so happy for him, proud of him, because he's a good person, he's smart, and he's worked his tail off. I think it's great when you see a player succeed who puts as much work in as he has."
"I think he's definitely put the league on notice (to) the type of player that he is," Leonard Williams added. "If he hasn't shown it years before, he's definitely done it this year. I've always known the type of player he is because I see him in practice every day. To me, I'm just happy and excited to see that now the world is giving him the same recognition that his peers and coaches have been seeing from him. He's definitely put on a show this year. It's been impressive to watch. He's just a freakish athlete for his size. I think that's really hard to match up."
5. Gano enjoying 'one of his better years'
An underrated storyline of the Giants' 2022 season has been the standout play of Graham Gano. Now in his 13th NFL season, Gano has connected on 90.3 percent of his field goal attempts, the third-highest mark in his career, while making 31 of 33 extra point attempts. The most impressive part of the veteran's performance has been his ability to make kicks from far out. Gano has made eight of nine attempts from 50+ yards, which set both a new personal and franchise record. The 35-year-old deserves a ton of credit for his success this year, but some of the praise must also fall on punter and holder Jamie Gillan and long snapper Casey Kreiter.
"That's huge for us. He's a weapon," Thomas McGaughey said about Gano. "You get a chance to know that at any point in time, once you cross the 50 (yard line) and you get into that area where he feels comfortable, that's huge. It's a comforting feeling to know that you have a guy that can get it done when you need to get it done…
"When you look at his percentage over the years, it's been pretty good. He's continuing to stay in his routine, and just him and Jamie have a really good handle on the battery of the three. Casey, Jamie and Graham have a really good working relationship and really relationship, period. They stay together over at the hotel. So, they're always around each other. I think that synergy of those three is really, really good. Obviously, that helps on gameday."
Speaking of Gillan, the Scottish punter has also enjoyed a solid season, especially in recent weeks. The four-year veteran is averaging a career-high 47.0 yards per punt, with a net of 40.3 yards. He's pinned opponents inside their own 20-yard line 26 times, just two shy of his career best of 28 set in his rookie season back in 2019. Gillan punted the ball just one time for 47 yards in last week's win, but prior to the New Year's Day matchup, he had three punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line in each of the last four games.
"He put on a show out here yesterday," the special teams coordinator said about Gillan. "He hit a lot of big punts yesterday. He probably had like seven or eight of them that were five plus (seconds hang time). So, you see the maturation process of it. You see him getting better. He's getting more confident. Obviously, it helped that it was 63 degrees out here yesterday; it wasn't 33 (degrees). He's doing a lot better. He's working hard. That's part of being a young punter in this league, you're just trying to figure it out. And I think he's on his way to figuring it out."