It turns our Dave Gettleman, Joe Judge, and the New York Giants knew what they were doing all along.
The Giants, from the depths of a 1-7 start following a pair of games they lost by three combined points to the Philadelphia Eagles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers last month, have all along trusted their process and risen to become a team that is playing at a level and in a way that makes them plenty capable of winning not just down the stretch but possibly in the postseason.
Following Sunday’s shocking, but physically dominating 17-12 victory in Seattle over the Seahawks with Colt McCoy leading the offense and a scrappy but determined defense dominating one-time MVP front-runner Russell Wilson, the rest of the NFL has taken notice of the Giants.
“They were playing all their games close in the fourth quarter,” a head coach who’s team played the Giants earlier this season tells FanSided. “Back when we played them they just couldn’t finish. Now, it seems like they’ve figured out a formula.”
That formula has been committing to a suddenly dominant running game led by Wayne Gallman, who rushed for a career-high 135 yards on Sunday, and journeyman Alfred Morris, who scored two touchdowns.
But, the secret behind the Giants’ offensive renaissance has been an offensive line that went from being a punchline that got position coach Marc Colombo fired, to a group that imposed its will at scrimmage for the majority of Sunday’s game, just as they have during a four-game winning streak with victories over the Washington Football Team, Philadelphia Eagles, and Bengals leading up to last Sunday.
“They are competitive and running the ball as well as anyone in the league right now,” an AFC Scout tells FanSided. “Until last week, they played three average teams, and that always helps. We’ll learn a lot about them over the next three weeks … ”
Those next three games come against the Arizona Cardinals, the Cleveland Browns, and at the Baltimore Ravens before closing out at home against the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium in a game that just might decide the NFC East division championship.
So, how did the Giants get here? How did a defense that deploys the likes of undrafted rookie Niko Lalos, fifth-round pick Darnay Holmes, and an offense that has been without Saquon Barkley since the running back tore his ACL back in Week 2 become one of the hottest teams in the NFL the past month?
“There is a calmness that runs through that organization that is a direct reflection of their quarterback,” a former NFL general manager Tells FanSided, on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely. “The head coach is a bit of a wild card, Joe Judge is like most disciplinarian head coaches in you can’t always predict how he’ll respond to things.
“But Daniel Jones has the chance to be really, really good. Think Matt Hasselbeck, or better. There’s just no panic in this kid. The Giants seem to have found consistency throughout their entire organization.”
Prior to injuring his right hamstring against the Bengals two weeks ago, Jones was in the midst of the strongest three-game stretch of his career. Over that span, Jones completed 67 percent of his passes for 669 yards and a touchdown, but most importantly, did not throw an interception.
Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett rebuilt the Giants’ scheme, committing to a run-based, RPO-centric system that maximized the offensive line’s strengths and leveraged Jones’ athleticism to near perfection. As a result of that renewed commitment to the ground game, Jones rushed for 87 yards and a touchdown in those 10.5 quarters.
Beyond the calmness stemming from Jones’ temperament and results, there is a synergy in philosophy between general manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Joe Judge that powered the organization’s most fruitful offseason in years.
Gettleman drafted cornerback James Bradberry in Carolina, and signed the former Panthers defensive back as a free agent this offseason. Bradberry might be the most impactful free agent signing Gettleman has made in his tenure as general manager, and he has surpassed even the organization’s wildest expectations by becoming Pro Football Focus’ No. 5 ranked cover-cornerback in the NFL. Inside linebacker Blake Martinez leads the Giants in tackles, and it was defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s intel from his time coaching Martinez in Green Bay that convinced New York to sign him on the first day of free agency back in March.
It was readily apparent that Joe Judge arrived in New Jersey with a vision for what he wanted his football team to be; fundamentally sound, physical, and a tough out for anyone who ran out of the opposing tunnel each Sunday.
Judge and Gettleman seem philosophically in sync in terms of how they view the way football is supposed to be played, and the coaching staff has communicated Judge’s vision clearly to the front office to go out and fortify the roster.
Maybe most importantly, Judge and his coaching staff seem to be exceptional at developing talent, as illustrated by defensive line coach Sean Spencer shaping Leonard Williams into the player the Jets thought they were drafting No. 15 overall, as Williams already has a career-high 8.5 sacks while playing on the franchise tag this season.
Likewise, Graham has gotten steady contributions from all three levels of the defense, regardless of who is on the field on a given play.
“He’s done a hell of a job as the year went on he started to get to know his guys a little better,” Giants safety Jabrill Peppers said of Graham following Sunday’s game. “What we’re good at, what our best attributes are, and putting us in the best possible positions to make plays. We just want to go out there and play hard and make those plays for them.”
The Giants, since Gettleman’s arrival, spend as much time on their first-round picks as they do prospective late-round selections. Those deliberations have netted wide receiver Darius Slayton in the fifth-round, linebackers Cam Brown and Tae Crowder in rounds six and seven, and the team even traded a sixth-round pick to the Denver Broncos back in 2018 for punter Riley Dixon, who has become a legitimate weapon on special teams.
Those late-round picks supplement a young core of players drafted over the past three years that includes Barkley, Jones, disruptive defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence, starting left tackle Andrew Thomas, among others.
But, this year’s draft appears to be the fruits of the Gettleman-Judge partnership as Slayton and seldom used defensive end R.J. McIntosh are the only players chosen in Round 5 or later remaining from the Giants’ 2018 and 2019 draft classes
Suddenly, the struggles of the Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur epochs seem like a distant memory in East Rutherford.
But, not everyone is buying into the Giants’ resurgence.
SportsLine oddsmakers say the Giants would open as a 5.5 home underdog against the Seattle Seahawks, if a rematch is in the cards on NFC Wild Card Weekend, and scouts are skeptical.
“This is nice, but I don’t see them winning a playoff game,” one scout said. “They might play Seattle, but if they wind up playing someone like Green Bay, they just can’t score enough.”
For the Giants, though, just like every team, they want to win this year. The pieces are in place for that to be a possibility.
However, given Gettleman’s experience with the Buffalo Bills in the 1990s and the Giants in the first part of this century along with Joe Judge’s track record as a member of Bill Belichick’s staff with the New England Patriots and Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide, the eye is toward sustained success.
The formula seems to be there. The players added to the roster last offseason seem to be in place. Now, it’s about continuing to build, not just momentum down this stretch run, but continuing to trust the process this upcoming offseason and beyond.
Texans GM search narrowing?
The Houston Texans are in the midst of a GM search and have assembled an advisory committee that includes Jimmy Johnson, Tony Dungy, Rod Graves, R.C. Buford, and Andre Johnson.
According to current and former NFL executives, one name that is high on that committee’s list is Seattle Seahawks personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith.
“With Jimmy Johnson on that search committee, He’s going to lobby for Highsmith,” A league source familiar with the Texans’ thinking tells FanSided. “Hard. Especially because of their Miami connection, which would be cool if Jimmy’s able to help Alonzo land a GM gig.”
Johnson coached Highsmith at the University of Miami, where he finished as the Hurricanes’ second all-time leading rusher with 1,914 yards. Highsmith also likely has another ally on the comittee in Graves, who is the Executive Director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which champions diversity among NFL executive and coaching hires.
Highsmith previously served as the Green Bay Packers’ senior personnel executive from 2012-2017 before joining John Dorsey’s staff as the Cleveland Browns’ Vice president of player personnel for two seasons from 2018-2019.
The Texans were the first franchise to fire their general manager, when they fired Bill O’Brien back on Oct. 5. Might Houston also be first in line to make a hire?
Patriots already have next Julian Edelman?
The New England Patriots have become an assembly line for special teams standouts turned prolific wide receivers, and just might have the latest from the Julian Edelman, Wes Welker, Danny Amendola pipeline.
Gunner Olszewski had his coming out party Sunday afternoon against the Los Angeles Chargers, by returning a punt 70 yards for a touchdown, catching a 38-yard touchdown pass and nearly breaking loose for a second punt return score.
Sunday was Olszewski’s 17th career game and featured his first two trips to the end zone one week after a 70-yard return touchdown was taken off the board by a controversial block in the back call against Anfernee Jennings against the Arizona Cardinals.
In his second year out of Bemidji State, located in the tiny Minnesota town of just 15,404, Olszewski is suddenly becoming a feared weapon on special teams and if his performance late in Sunday’s game as a receiver is any indication, he might just carve out a niche on offense as the Patriots mount a late season playoff charge.
What I’ll be watching
All of it.
Back in 1997 there was a College Football Saturday deemed “Judgement Day” when unbeaten and No. 1 ranked Michigan faced unbeaten and No. 6 ranked Penn State, also, unbeaten and No. 2 ranked Florida State squared off against unbeaten and No. 8 ranked North Carolina.
Michigan and Florida State both won in blowout fashion that day, with the Wolverines going on to win a split National Championship (remember those?) with Nebraska and the Seminoles finishing ranked No. 3 in both the Associated Press and Coaches Polls.
Sunday has that type of feel in the NFL.
Just look at these matchups:
New England Patriots at Los Angeles Rams*
Minnesota Vikings* at Tampa Bay Buccaneers*
Kansas City Chiefs* at Miami Dolphins*
Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants*
Indianapolis Colts* at Las Vegas Raiders
Pittsburgh Steelers* at Buffalo Bills*
Baltimore Ravens* at Cleveland Browns*
*- current playoff teams
You’re looking at possibly as many as five potential games that could eventually wind up being playoff rematches, the Cardinals and Raiders are both on the current postseason bubble, and we are going to learn a heck of a lot about the suddenly 11-1 Pittsburgh Steelers in their toughest remaining game of the season on Sunday night on the banks of Lake Erie.
Sunday might just carry the same implications for this year’s NFL season as Judgement Day did in College Football 23 years ago.
“I got into a zone today. When it’s spinning off your hand and you know what the ball’s doing, what the tail’s doing, that’s kind of what I felt today. I understood where my guys were. Coach Daboll called a great game plan, our guys did a great job of executing, and in a dome type setting with no wind and no cold, you know, when the ball’s spinning off your hands, you feel like you have supreme control and that’s kind of what I felt tonight.”
-Bills QB Josh Allen (via ESPN) following Monday’s 34-24 statement victory over the San Francisco 49ers, in Arizona
Don’t look now, but there is something really special building in Buffalo.
Having already passed for 3,403 yards with 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions, Allen is leveraging his arm-strength against improved decision-making while remaining a threat to run on any given snap with six rushing touchdowns, into quickly becoming one of the most exciting passers to watch in the game.
Who knows if the Bills can win a playoff game, but Allen might just be the premier quarterback to emerge from the 2018 NFL Draft class. Each week, the ceiling above the Bills seems to get raised another rung, or two, and we will find out much more about this team on Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers. But, in a very mediocre division, the Bills’ collection of young talent around Allen complemented by a menacing and imposing defense leads one to wonder if this isn’t the team best positioned to challenge the Kansas City Chiefs for AFC Supremacy in 2021 and beyond.
Who’s laughing at the NFC East now?
For much of the year, the Giants, Washington Football Team, Philadelphia Eagles, and Dallas Cowboys were national punchlines week in and week out.
There have been plenty of teams that have gotten into the postseason at 7-9 and gone on to win a playoff game. Since 1970, 10 wild card teams have gone on to make the Super Bowl, and six of them flew home with the Lombardi Trophy.
The Football Team and the Giants are coming off signature victories (the Giants, as outlined above over the Seahawks, and the Football Team knocking off the Pittsburgh Steelers, allowing the living members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins to pop their champagne), and are riding resurgent running games, steady quarterback play, and swarming defenses on a late-season surge.
New York owns the head-to-head tiebreaker after sweeping the regular season series, but as one former executive told me this week, it isn’t about what happens in the first six weeks, rather the final five or six that truly matter.
No one is going to remember that the Giants opened 0-5, or Washington stumbled to a 1-5 start if one of these teams wins the division and wins at least the postseason game they host.
In the NFL Playoffs, every single game is a Game 7 situation, and the way New York and Washington are playing now, they both seem primed to be at least competitive in that environment and a far cry from how they started.
Matt Lombardo is the site expert for GMenHQ, and writes Between The Hash Marks each Wednesday for FanSided. Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattLombardoNFL.