Last year’s second straight 6-10 finish included eight Giants losses by six or fewer points, and five blown fourth quarter leads. The 6,725 yards they allowed was the third-most in league history, which included an NFL-record 4,783 passing yards allowed. The 442 points given up was topped only by the 501 points allowed by the 1966 version of the Giants.
Opening wallets in free agency for a quick fix doesn’t always work. How does $200 million on that side of the ball alone sound? So guess what? They’re 11th in points allowed (20.4 per game), 16th in total defense, allowing just 92 yards per game on the ground (7th) and lead the NFL right now in red zone defense, allowing touchdown just 42 percent of the time. And those fourth quarter problems of 2015? They’re allowing an average of 5.33 points in that period, compared to 8.75 a year ago.
This team is just 30th in the league with only 14 sacks, but coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was given another chance by Ben McAdoo, with all those new pieces to play with. Jason Pierre-Paul was re-signed after being limited to half a season a year ago, better dealing with a hand damaged from a fireworks accident. Olivier Vernon was signed away from Miami for $85 million, and he has just three sacks, which still shares the team lead. Damon “Snacks” Harrison, Pro Football Focus’ top D-Lineman against the run, got a $46.5 million payday. Linebackers Keenan Robinson, Kelvin Sheppard, and cornerback Janoris Jenkins ($62.5 million) picked up off-season paydays and nametags as well. But the greatest impact player on that side of the ball is last year’s second-round draft pick.
Landon Collins was the latest product of Alabama’s safety factory, and (with the help of a better surrounding cast) has been terrific. He has four interceptions (third in the NFL), all in his last three games, including one for a touchdown. He leads the team with 60 solo and 74 overall tackles. And who’s tied with Vernon for the team sacks lead? Collins.
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Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie each have eleven passes defensed, but Spagnuolo’s trying to throw first-round pick Eli Apple into the fire through injuries as the starter at corner opposite Jenkins. Let’s remember the Giants reportedly had their eye on Leonard Floyd with the 10th overall pick last April before the Bears traded up to ninth with Tampa Bay to grab him, leaving the Big Apple left with Apple.
Joining Collins as a not-to-be-overlooked defensive incumbent amidst all the off-season spending are tackle Jonathan Hankins (tying Vernon with five tackles for loss) and linebacker Jonathan Casillas, who’s second on the D in tackles.
The way things are going for these two teams right now, it might be a reach to think this game might go down to the wire. But who knows? Perhaps the Giants take their foot off the gas looking at a three-game stretch facing the Bears, Browns and Steelers (a combined 6-&-22). How delicious would it be to have it all come down to a field goal attempt by either Connor Barth, or the man he replaced, Robbie Gould. The Bears’ all-time scoring leader had a couple of other opportunities before the Giants flew him to London four weeks ago in the wake of the Josh Brown domestic violence case. He’s only attempted one field goal, making it, while being perfect on all nine extra point attempts.
Dwayne Harris is one of the league’s better kickoff return men (two touchdowns last season, and fifth this year with a 25-yard average), but he left Monday’s game with a toe injury, so his status on both return teams will be one to watch as the week progresses. The Bears and Giants are, statistically, the two worst punt coverage teams in the NFL right now.