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Inside the Numbers: Xavier McKinney leads defensive surge

XAVIER-MCKINNEY-INSIDE-THE-NUMBERS

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Last Friday, four days after the Giants gave up 402 and 30 points in a loss at Tampa Bay, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham held his weekly question and answer session with reporters.

"Obviously, last week we didn't do a good enough job," Graham said. "So, hopefully, this week we do a better job and compete and go out there and give us a chance to win."

The defense did exactly that in a 13-7 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles. The final score is indicative of the unit's dominance. It forced four turnovers – three interceptions and one fumble – and twice stopped Philadelphia on fourth down.

Although the Eagles ran for 208 yards, quarterback Jalen Hurts completed only 14 of 31 passes, a 45.2 percentage that was the lowest by a starting quarterback against the Giants since Washington's Mark Sanchez connected on just 42.9% of his passes (6-for-14) on Dec. 9, 2018. Sanchez was replaced in the second half of that 40-16 Giants victory by Josh Johnson.

The victory Sunday was part of a recent and significant improvement in the defense's performance, the major reason the Giants have won three of their last five games following a 1-5 start. Beginning with a 25-3 victory against Carolina on Oct. 24, the defense has advanced in every significant statistical category. Most importantly, the Giants have cut their points allowed per game almost in half.

When the streak began, the defense was allowing an NFL-high 72.9 completion percentage by opposing quarterbacks. Since then, the Panthers and Eagles were both under 50%, and standouts Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady threw a combined 35 incompletions against the Giants.

Table inside Article
First 6 GamesLast 5 Games
Record1-53-2
Points Allowed177, 29.5 per game76, 15.2 per game
Total Yards2,408, 401.3 per game1,678, 335.6 per game
Takeaways811
1st Downs158, 26.3 per game111, 22.2 per game
Completion %73.9 (153 of 207)58.5 (124 of 212)
Sacks1011

Perhaps no one personifies the defensive progress more than second-year safety Xavier McKinney, who has played every snap in each of the last eight games. He has also stepped in as a leader in the secondary after the loss of captains Jarill Peppers with a ruptured ACL and Logan Ryan the last two weeks to COVID-19.

In the Giants' four November games, McKinney recorded 29 tackles (16 solo), four passes defensed and three interceptions, including one he returned 41 yards for a touchdown in a 23-16 victory against Las Vegas. McKinney intercepted two passes in that game; he also had two picks vs. the Rams on Oct. 17. McKinney's two interceptions vs. the Raiders earned him the Week 9 NFC Defensive Player of the Week. He picked off Derek Carr's sideline pass intended for Hunter Renfrow and sprinted 41 yards down the sideline with just 1:32 elapsed in the third quarter. It was the first touchdown of McKinney's career and the Giants' first defensive touchdown of the season, and it gave the Giants a lead they never relinquished at 17-13.

The lead was 20-16 when McKinney intercepted a Carr pass with 5:12 remaining in the fourth quarter, a takeaway that led to Graham Gano's third field goal, a 38-yarder.

McKinney is the first Giants player with a pair of two-interception games in a single season since Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in 2016.

On Sunday against Philadelphia, McKinney intercepted a deep pass by Hurts in the third quarter. His five interceptions place him in a four-way tie for third in the NFL this season.

McKinney's three interceptions in November tied him with Cleveland's Denzel Ward for second in the NFL, one behind New England's J.C. Jackson. McKinney led all safeties and all NFC players with three interceptions in November.

His team-high five interceptions leave him tied with three other players for third in the NFL. It is the highest total by a Giants player since linebacker Alex Ogletree had five in 2018, the most by a Giants defensive back since cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had six in 2016, and the most by a safety since Landon Collins had five that season. And McKinney still has six games to play.

McKinney also led the Giants in tackles in each of their last two games, with seven (five solo) at Tampa Bay and eight (four solo) in the victory vs. Philadelphia. He is third on the Giants with 61 tackles (39 solo).

*The Giants had four takeaways and no giveaways Sunday against the Eagles. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, NFL teams are 10-0 this season with a plus-4 or more turnover advantage.

*The Giants have at least one takeaway in 13 consecutive games dating back to last season, tying them with the Indianapolis Colts for the NFL's longest active streak. They are the only teams with a takeaway in every game this season.

*The Giants have intercepted a pass in eight consecutive games, which is also the league's longest active streak. New England is second with picks in seven straight games. If the Giants get an interception Sunday in Miami, they will have their first nine-game streak since 2000.

*Tackle Andrew Thomas and tight end Chris Myarick each scored touchdowns on their first NFL receptions the last two weeks. Before Myarick, the last Giants player who is not an offensive tackle to score on his first career reception was running back Wayne Gallman on Oct. 1, 2017 (four-yard pass from Eli Manning at Tampa Bay).

*The Giants have 11 touchdown receptions this season. Myarick became the 10th different Giants player to catch one (Evan Engram has two). That is the NFL's second-highest total; 11 New Orleans Saints have caught touchdown passes.

*Six different Giants wide receivers have at least one rushing attempt, the most in one season since the 1970 merger. It is also the highest total in the NFL this season. Four teams have five wideouts who have run the ball.

*The Dolphins have won their last four games, the longest active winning streak for a Giants opponent since they faced a New England team that had won five in a row on Oct. 10, 2019.

*Saquon Barkley's 40 rushing yards vs. Philadelphia increased his career total to 2,604. That moved him past Rob Carpenter (2,572 from 1981-85) and into 12th place on the Giants' career list.

*Engram caught three passes for 37 yards against the Eagles. He has 247 career catches, which ties him with Aaron Thomas for 15th on the franchise's all-time list and fourth among its tight ends. Mark Bavaro is 14th overall and third among tight ends with 266 catches.

*Engram has 2,693 career receiving yards. He jumped ahead of Alex Webster (2,679) and into 22nd place on the Giants' career list. Bob Schnelker is 21st with 3,232 yards.

View all the action from the Giants' Week 12 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles.

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