By James Bosslett
The New York Giants came into the 2022 season with very little expectations. Most NFL fans and reporters predicted that the Giants would be a bottom-tier team, and most likely a team with a high draft pick in the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft. These early season predictions for the Giants have proved to be wrong, as they have raced out to a 6-2 record, including a four game win streak at one point and have cemented themselves as one of the top teams in the league this season. It has left many fans to wonder; how did the Giants go from an expected last place division finish to the top of the conference?
The Culture Change
Since 2016, when legendary Giants coach Tom Coughlin stepped away from the head coaching position, the Giants have been on a downward spiral. The hirings of Ben McAdoo and Joe Judge each brought one season where the team looked promising, but the seasons to follow would be nothing short of a failure. The culture of the team was so bad last season that the team ran a quarterback sneak on a third and nine instead of trying to actually pick up the first down. It seemed like the team and the coaching staff had just given up and accepted the fact that the team was bad. At the end of last season, the Giants organization parted ways with former head coach Joe Judge and hired then Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll. Daboll had been an assistant coach in the league for quite some time and also spent time under all-time great collegiate head coach Nick Saban at the University of Alabama. Coach Daboll had never had a head coaching job until this year, so while there was potential, there was also concern that Daboll could control an entire locker room. So far, those concerns have been shut down. Coach Daboll has gotten the Giants locker room to buy into his system, and it is very clear by the on-field product that the team wants to win games, unlike years past. He has brought in a new culture, a culture that the players have bought into and shown the results on the field. The Giants are by no means the most talented team on paper, but all of their players play with such fire because of Coach Daboll that it makes this team very hard to beat.
The Giants trotted out one of the worst offensive units in the NFL last season, averaging 15.2 points per game (per ESPN), which was the second lowest in the league. While the offense is not elite, they have very much improved from last season. A big reason for that is the return to form of running back Saquon Barkley. Barkley had one of the best rookie seasons by a running back ever in 2018, but has struggled since then to stay on the field. Multiple knee and ACL injuries have had him sidelined for a large amount of time over the past four seasons. Now back at full health, Barkley has returned to form and is second in the league in rushing yards with 726 which is more than any Giants running back all of last season. Saquon has also had a hand from his improved offensive line, with 2020 number four overall pick Andrew Thomas playing at an elite level and rookie seventh overall pick Evan Neal producing well for a rookie. These two tackles have been able to free up more holes for Barkley to run through. The biggest determination of the Giants offensive success is quarterback Daniel Jones. It was unclear if Jones would be kept around as the starter for the Giants after this season, but with his play so far, it seems like he will. Jones’ numbers do not pop off the screen, as they are not at the level of elite quarterbacks such as Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Bills quarterback Josh Allen. The main reason for Daniel Jones being a successful quarterback this season is that he has limited the turnovers. In his first three seasons, Jones was a turnover machine, with fumbles and interceptions happening weekly. This season, Jones has taken far better care of the ball, with an improved pocket presence leading to less strip sacks, and he has not been forcing the ball down the field. Instead, he takes what the defense gives him. Jones has done what the Giants needed him to do for them to win games, including leading five game winning drives so far this season. His stats do not show, but his consistency has helped the Giants late in games this season.
The Defensive Success
The Giants defense has not been the greatest statistically, but they get the job done when it matters most. The secondary still struggles at times, but the new and improved defensive line with fifth overall pick edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence and defensive end Leonard Williams has been playing at a high level so far this season. Their ability to stop the run and put pressure on the quarterback has been a big reason for the defensive unit’s success this season. They give a big hand to a secondary that has not been the most consistent unit by being disruptors up front. The numbers are not the numbers of a truly elite defense, but they often step up when they are needed most, whether it’s late in a game or on the goaline, the unit knows how to get a major stop when it is needed most. Newly hired defensive coordinator Don Martindale has been able to scheme up ways to make the opposing quarterbacks day very hard, whether it is with different blitzes, defensive line stunts or obscure formations. Martindale understands that his defensive talent may not be the best in the league, but his scheme allows for them to perform at a high level when they need to the most.
This Giants roster still has some very large holes in it, with one of the worst receiving corps in the league, and less game-breaking talent than other top teams in the league do. This team just knows how to win games. The hirings of Coach Daboll and Coach Martindale has changed the culture of this Giants team, which has been the true factor to their success. The team as a whole is doing their job, and players they needed to step up their level of play have done so in a big way. They are a hard team to play against. They play smart, they hang around in games, and they know how to perform when it matters most — late in games. Looking at the rest of the season, the schedule they have down the stretch favors them. After their bye week, they play the Houston Texans, Detroit Lions, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, and the Washington Commanders twice in the six weeks following the bye. The Cowboys and Eagles are the only two teams in this span with winning records. It makes all of these games very winnable, and this team could very well secure a playoff berth for the first time since 2016.