New York Giants: Counting Their Thanksgiving Blessings
The New York Giants have a lot to be thankful for this season.
Believe it or not, New York Giants fans, Thanksgiving is upon us, which can only mean two things: Lots and lots of turkey—with all the trimmings—and lots and lots of football.
The New York Giants won’t be among those teams on the Thanksgiving Day menu as far as the latter offering. But the good news is that the team, who now sit at 7-3 with six games to go, remains firmly in control of its postseason destiny. That’s something the last few teams haven’t been able to lay claim to and is certainly something that a lot of Giants fans will no doubt give thanks for when they sit down Thursday to count their blessings.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, let’s also run down some of what the members of the Giants organization have to be thankful for in 2016.
GM Jerry Reese: A Bottomless Personnel Budget
Ask any NFL general manager how he prefers to build a franchise and, chances are, he’ll state a strong preference for the draft. Unfortunately, the Giants had a washout when it came to their 2010-12 draft classes, which included notable disappointments such as defensive end Damontre Moore, defensive tackle Marvin Austin, and cornerback Prince Amukamara among many others.
Thankfully for Reese, team ownership literally handed him the keys to the vault and Reese aggressively went after some of the biggest names in the 2016 free agent market, spending close to $200 million to upgrade spots on the team where the failed draft picks were supposed to finally be ready to step in as starters.
Where they failed with Moore, they added Olivier Vernon. Where they failed with Austin, they added Damon Harrison. And where they came up short with Amukamara, they landed Janoris Jenkins. The difference for the Giants defense has been like night and day.
New York is currently ranked 16th overall, its run defense being ranked in the top 10 league-wide in 7 out of the 10 games played thanks largely in part to Harrison and Johnathan Hanklins controlling the middle and Vernon and partner-in-crime Jason Pierre-Paul controlling the edges. Jenkins has quietly played lights out when teams have even dared to throw to his side of the field.
All in all, spending mega bucks in free agency isn’t the way to go if you want to build a roster for the long-term, but Reese and the Giants appear to be getting some very positive returns on their investment so far.
Ben McAdoo: Eli Manning
If it looks as though rookie head coach Ben McAdoo’s transition from offensive coordinator to head coach has gone about as smoothly ass can be expected, that’s because quarterback Eli Manning has played a large role in that process.
“Comforting,” McAdoo said this week when asked what it was like to know that week in and week out, the identity of his starting quarterback is set. “Eli is always steady. That’s the great part about this job. There’s not a lot of franchise quarterbacks out there. One who is as steady as Eli and always prepares at a high level always helps.”
It’s partly thanks to Manning that McAdoo has been able to rise up the NFL coaching ranks as quickly as he has since joining the Giants in 2014. Last year, Manning led an offense ranked in the top 10 in both scoring and average yards, making it look easy even as the rest of the team crumbled around him.
Having Manning on the field is just as good as having another coach. While there are times he looks skittish out there, Manning almost always dials up the right play for the look the defense is showing. For all the struggles that Browns head coach Hue Jackson is having this season, you wonder how he might have fared had he come to the Giants.
DE Jason Pierre-Paul: DE Olivier Vernon
Think back to the 2007 defensive line for a moment, a line that had the triple threat of Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck at defensive ends. With an impact player like Strahan, teams were often forced to double and sometimes triple team him which often left opportunities open for other guys to make plays against the opposing quarterback.
The addition of Olivier Vernon to the mix has had a very similar effect for Jason Pierre-Paul. Had the Giants not upgraded that other defensive end spot, Pierre-Paul likely would have found himself buried by opposing blockers any time he attempted to rush the passer.
Now? Not so much. Teams must pick their poison regarding whom they double team. Lately, there just doesn’t seem to be a correct answer.
Although the sack totals haven’t been eye-popping, both Pierre-Paul and Vernon have been able to tee-off on the quarterback and move him off his mark. That duo has combined for 23 of the team’s 51 quarterback hits.
That might not sound like a big deal, but if you consider that opposing quarterbacks have completed just 58.8 percent of their pass attempts—and yes, part of that credit has to go to the defensive secondary—that’s good production right there considering last season, opponents completed 66.3 percent of their pass attempts.
Landon Collins: Experience
Second-year safety Landon Collins—”Mr. Collins” as former Giants receiver Brandon London and I call him on the Big Blue Chat Podcast—has been playing lights out this season. Collins leads the Giants in tackles (80) and interceptions (5), and is second on the team in sacks (3).
As the postseason playoff picture has started to take shape, Collins isn’t just doing his thing against the run; he’s shown that he is indeed a complete safety. In making a case for NFC Defensive Player of the Month for November, Collins thus far has 23 total tackles, 1 sack, 3 interceptions, and 5 pass breakups.
The difference? He has a better understanding of the defense, which has allowed him to fly around out there.
Performance aside, Collins has also been one of the most consistent faces in that defensive backfield, along with Janoris Jenkins. With injuries having affected the playing time of corners Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Eli Apple, and safeties Darian Thompson and Nat Berhe, Collins has brought a calming presence to that defensive backfield that cannot be underestimated.
Giants Family: Strength and Conditioning Coach Aaron Wellman
Go ahead and raise your hand if you were sick and tired of the Giants ranking at or near the top of the most injured teams in the league over the last three seasons. You aren’t alone, as the entire organization felt your pain. So when Ben McAdoo was hired as head coach, he brought in a new strength and conditioning coach, Aaron Wellman, whose methods were a little more modern.
Wellman’s impact has been felt. He renovated the team’s weight room. He also no doubt had input into the team’s practice and recovery schedule and activities, which now include tables full of post practice snacks and smoothies that the players can grab on their way back from the practice field to begin their recoveries as quickly as possible.
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The results have been favorable. The Giants no longer look gassed by the end of games. They’re also able to remain crisp in the up-tempo practices that are structured to match a game’s pace.
While injuries remain a part of football, the Giants so far have been fortunate when it comes to what was once a glaring epidemic in their locker room. In 11 weeks, the Giants have just eight players on injured reserve. The biggest names have been safety Darian Thompson, running back Shane Vereen, and tight end/fullback Will Johnson.
Last year around this time, the starting lineup, particularly on defense, looked much different than the opening day lineup. This year, the Giants have been able to get their players on the field to establish continuity.
Other players have had to miss some time, such as left guard Justin Pugh. But the good news is that Pugh seems to be recovering at a rapid pace. Ditto Victor Cruz, who had to miss one game because of a sprained ankle, but was right back the following week looking no worse for the wear.
Guys are also gutting out injuries whenever they can. Defensive end Olivier Vernon has been bothered by a wrist ailment since Week 2. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has played through a groin and lower back ailments. Return specialist Dwayne Harris has been gutting out a toe issue.
Between Wellman’s practices and the will of the individual players, the injury big has decided to take its business elsewhere this year. For that, the Giants owe a large amount of gratitude to Wellman.
WR Odell Beckham Jr.: “Nettie”
In case you haven’t noticed, Odell Beckham Jr., the Giants emotional star receiver, has settled down quite nicely since popping the question to “girlfriend” “Nettie” on Oct. 16 in a win against the Ravens, the first of the Giants current five-game winning streak. The big moment came shortly after Beckham took a 66-yard slant pass to the house for what turned out to be the game-winning score for the Giants.
Since that game, Beckham has exploded for 460 yards on 32 catches and 5 touchdowns, his yardage and touchdown totals easily topping what he produced in the first five weeks of the season (359 yards, 1 touchdown).
“Nettie” might have some competition.
This week marked the second anniversary of Beckham’s famous one-handed fingertip catch, an event that he said Wednesday has “changed my life forever” and one to whom he sent an affectionate “shout out” via Twitter.
Happy anniversary luv. U changed my life
— Odell Beckham Jr (@OBJ_3) November 23, 2016
As for what this means for Beckham and “Nettie,” I can’t say for sure. Let’s hope that, if those two crazy-in-love kids did break up, it was an amicable parting.