How offensive line bounced back to help Giants achieve rare feat

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Check the date.

Yes, it is October — very early October. There are far more green leaves on the trees than Autumnal-colored leaves fallen to the ground. The MLB playoffs have not even begun. And the Giants have three wins.

Usually, the NHL and even the NBA seasons have started up by the time the Giants are able to stick a “3” in the win column. Last season, it took them until Nov. 7 to achieve victory No. 3. In 2020, it was Nov. 15. In 2019, that milestone was not reached until Dec. 15. It was Nov. 18 in 2018 and, Lord help us, in 2017 it took until New Year’s Eve — Dec. 31, for goodness sakes! — for the Giants to win their third game that season.

New head coach Brian Daboll is way ahead in the rebuilding project he took over. His team has scored 76 points and given up 71 points. Every game is an exercise in tightrope walking. Every forward pass is an adventure. The most recent victory, 20-12 over the Bears, represents the largest margin in any of the four games.

Raise your hand if you have felt comfortable watching the Giants at any point thus far this season. On the flipside, there has never been a time when this team does not look as if it has a plan.

Here is a look at some of the more interesting developments to come out of victory No. 3 for the Giants — attained on Oct. 2, 2022. It is right there on the calendar:

— The offensive line that was overmatched in Week 3 against the Cowboys was the superior group when matched with the Bears. Sure, offensive coordinator Mike Kafka went with a run-heavy plan — 44 rushes, 16 passes — and rarely had Daniel Jones in straight drop-back mode, alleviating the pressure on the pass protectors. Jones was sacked only once and that came on one of the many bootleg options Kafka called — one of the few the Bears diagnosed correctly. Rookie right tackle Evan Neal after allowing three sacks last week was far more consistent a week later. Neal, though, played only 42 snaps before leaving with a neck issue.

An offensive line will never complain about running it too often. The 262 yards on the Bears was their highest rushing total since Dec. 21, 2008 when they ran for 308 yards on the Panthers. Saquon Barkley carried it a career-high 31 times to get his 146 rushing yards, and Jones and backup Tyrod Taylor accounted for 98 rushing yards.

Saquon Barkley runs during the Giants' win over the Bears on Oct. 2, 2022.
Saquon Barkley runs during the Giants’ win over the Bears on Oct. 2, 2022.

Evan Neal reacts during the third quarter of the Giants' win over the Bears on Oct. 2, 2022.
Evan Neal reacts during the third quarter of the Giants’ win over the Bears on Oct. 2, 2022.

Andrew Thomas (78) celebrates with Daniel Jones (8) during the Giants' win over the Bears on Oct. 2, 2022.
Andrew Thomas (78) celebrates with Daniel Jones (8) during the Giants’ win over the Bears on Oct. 2, 2022.

“The mentality that we had to come in and be physical against a good defense, I think we did a good job of that,” left tackle Andrew Thomas said. “I think it’s a little bit of both mindset and scheme. We had the mentality to come in and run the ball with a lot of nakeds and play-actions and get DJ using his legs. We knew if we could run the ball, those [bootlegs] were opened up. With Saquon back there, the defenses are going to key on him and those things open up good for us.”

— If Jones (ankle) and Taylor (concussion) are both unavailable to play in London it will be Davis Webb activated off the practice squad to make his first NFL start against the Packers. In this scenario, the Giants will need a backup quarterback. They had Brian Lewerke on the practice squad in 2021 but he did not last long with this new coaching staff, as he was released in the spring. He would have at least some familiarity with the offense, though. Matt Barkley was (and still is) on the Bills practice squad when Daboll was running the offense in Buffalo and he certainly knows the system the Giants are running. If he is signed from the Bills’ practice squad he would count on the Giants’ 53-man roster for at least three weeks.

Davis Webb would be the Giants' starting quarterback against the Packers if Daniel Jones and Tyrod Taylor can't play.
Davis Webb would be the Giants’ starting quarterback against the Packers if Daniel Jones and Tyrod Taylor can’t play.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

— The Giants are 3-1.  We have to keep reminding ourselves of this when you consider:

Jones’ 21-yard run in the first quarter was the first touchdown in the first half for the Giants this season. Going back to last year, the Giants had not scored a touchdown in the first half in an NFL-high seven consecutive games.

The 71 net passing yards against the Bears was their fewest in nearly 15 years. The Giants had 49 passing yards on Oct, 28, 2007 in a victory over the Dolphins in a game played in heavy rain in London.

The Giants completed nine passes, the fewest in a victory since they also had nine completions on Dec. 24, 2011 in a late-season victory over the Jets — a game made famous for a certain completion that went to Victor Cruz for a 99-yard catch-and-run touchdown.

The Giants allowed 146 rushing yards to the Bears, 176 rushing yards to the Cowboys and 146 rushing yards to the Panthers — and won two of the three games.

— Daboll is not a big proponent of using packages that feature three tight ends (13-personnel). He prefers wide receivers to tight ends. He also is showing he is highly adaptable. He wanted to run it and run it and run it against the Bears and, in case you hadn’t noticed, his receivers are not exactly lighting it up. So three tight ends were used prominently in this game: Chris Myarick (41 of the 65 snaps on offense), Daniel Bellinger (39 snaps) and Tanner Hudson (37 snaps) were on the field together for more than 20 percent of the offensive snaps. Bellinger caught three passes for 23 yards and Hudson caught one pass for 18 yards. On Jones’ 21-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, Bellinger at the start of the play and Hudson at the end of the play made key blocks to spring their quarterback. Both of Jones’ touchdown runs came with 13-personnel on the field.

— Players visit every week but not every tryout is the same. The Giants on Monday will take a look at Landon Collins, their second-round pick out of Alabama in 2015. It is hard to believe but Collins is only 28 years old. He was a legitimate candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 and made three consecutive Pro Bowls but things soured, injuries arose and his coverage limitations led to him becoming a free agent in 2019 and he signed a massive six-year, $84 million deal with Washington. He spent the past three seasons there and was released in March. He ended the 2021 season on injured reserve with a foot issue. The Giants would be interested in him not as a traditional safety but in a hybrid linebacker role, close to the line of scrimmage. This visit was scheduled before safety Julian Love left the game against the Bears with a concussion. The Giants’ next game is in London against the Packers. The last time the Giants played in London was during the 2016 season and Collins had two interceptions, including one he ran back 44 yards for a touchdown, in a 17-10 victory over the Rams at rugby venue Twickenham Stadium. Collins zig-zagged across the field for his pick-six. “I must have run at least 100 yards on that play,” Collins said afterward.

— Did Jaylon Smith do enough to convince highly demanding defensive coordinator Wink Martindale that he should be a starting inside linebacker alongside Tae Crowder? Smith did not start against the Bears but he played exactly half (31 of 62) of the defensive snaps. Rookie Micah McFadden made his first NFL start but played fewer snaps (27) than Smith. It is clear Martindale craves speed and tackling ability at the position and Smith has always shown he has both. He is only 27 years old and is not the player he was when he was compiling 121, 142 and 154 tackles in three consecutive seasons for the Cowboys (2018-20). He may never be the player he might have been coming out of Notre Dame — he was projected to be a top-five pick in the NFL Draft but dropped into the second round after a devastating knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl to end his junior season. Martindale and the Giants have cycled through Blake Martinez (released after training camp), Austin Calitro (Game 1 starter) and McFadden at inside linebacker. Does the cycle stop with Smith?

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