Janoris Jenkins, Landon Collins have Giants defense leading charge at mid-season mark
The Giants' identity nine weeks into the NFL season is a team with exciting talent that hasn't realized its full potential but still finds ways to win, thanks to an improved defense and new, late-game resilience - and in spite of the organization's gross errors in judgment handling the Josh Brown domestic violence scandal.
That is how Big Blue (5-3) has arrived just one win shy of its previous two years' win totals (back-to-back 6-10 seasons) at just the halfway mark of rookie head coach Ben McAdoo's first season.
The Giants still have a long way to go and a lot to improve in order to snap the franchise's four-year playoff drought, but McAdoo is correct when he says, "All of our goals are sitting in front of us." They are riding a three-game winning streak with the Cincinnati Bengals visiting MetLife Stadium next Monday night.
Eli Manning has guided 10-6 and 9-7 teams to Super Bowls in 2007 and 2011, respectively, already. Entering Week 10, the Giants hold the NFC's first wild card but would prefer to catch division leader Dallas (7-1) and avoid the pack on their heels that includes NFC East rivals Washington (4-3-1) and Philadelphia (4-4).
Here is how Big Blue's first half shook out, with midseason awards and a forecast for the stretch run:
Team MVP: Janoris Jenkins, CB
The 'Jackrabbit' has brought an attitude and skill set that has totally changed the Giants' defense coming over in a pricey free agent deal from the Rams. He has two interceptions, a blocked field goal return for a touchdown to beat the Saints in Week 2, 30 tackles, and a swagger this team badly needed coming out of the discouraging end to Tom Coughlin's Giants tenure.
Offensive MVP: Odell Beckham Jr., WR
Beckham didn't score until Week 5 and has dropped too many passes, but even playing through a hip injury the past 2-1/2 games, he has 44 catches for 676 yards and five TDs. That puts him on a pace for 88 catches, 1,352 yards and 10 TDs, short of both his rookie season (91 catches, 1305 yards, 12 TDs in 12 games) and year two (96 catches, 1450 yards, 13 TDs). But Beckham beat the Ravens with a career day in Week 6, has five TDs the last four games, and Eli Manning-to-Beckham is the Giants' best - and sometimes only - trump card.
Defensive MVP: Landon Collins, SS
The second-year safety out of Alabama is having a Pro Bowl season and easily could get the Team MVP vote, too. Collins says his move from free safety (where he played as a rookie) to his natural position at strong safety has helped, but his star is soaring: Collins is the only player in the NFL this season to lead his team in tackles (69), interceptions (three) and sacks (three). Collins' electric, 44-yard interception return for a TD in London also probably will go down as the top individual play of the Giants' season.
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Most pleasant surprise: Keenan Robinson, LB
Jenkins, Damon Harrison and Olivier Vernon were Jerry Reese's 'Big Three' free agent signings to upgrade the defense totaling a combined $193.75 million, but Robinson, inked to a one-year, $2.6 million free agent deal away from Washington, has been a revelation recently. Robinson is third on the team in tackles (48) and third in solo tackles (31) behind only Collins (69, 55) and linebacker Jonathan Casillas (60, 37). Robinson played more snaps than any other linebacker on the roster Sunday against the Eagles (63) and has risen from passing-down plug-in to can't-take-him-off-the-field status. "I just play the game as it comes," Robinson said Sunday. "Every play to me is a big play."
Biggest disappointment: John Mara and Jerry Reese
The Giants' front office re-signed kicker Josh Brown in the spring with knowledge of his domestic violence arrest and history, then defended their decision to continue employing him in August, when information about Brown became public thanks to reports by NJ.com and the Daily News. Mara later put his foot in his mouth by saying the Giants had been aware of Brown's domestic violence, just not of "the extent." Reese, the GM who re-signed Brown, insensitively and arrogantly declined comment in one of his rare media meetings. The Giants eventually released Brown, once the King County (Wa.) Sheriff released documents detailing Brown's admission of his abuse that neither the Giants nor NFL said they had seen before. But the Giants were way overdue in doing the right thing. What an eye-opening and disappointing two months.
Biggest disappointment on the field: The running game
Ben McAdoo is getting sensitive about criticism of his putrid rushing attack. "Despite all the negativity out there in the run game," McAdoo said Monday, "we made some progress there late in the second half." To clarify, the Giants rushed for 54 yards on 24 carries (2.25 yards per carry), rank dead last in the NFL in rush yards per game (68.2), and when Paul Perkins and the offensive line did make gains in Sunday's fourth quarter, McAdoo called a 3rd-and-4 pass play that resulted in an interception. Maybe he should walk his talk of faith in the run game first.
Most notable trend: Fourteen players on the field for the Giants Sunday were either rookies or second-year players. McAdoo has no problem leaning on youngsters and in some areas has no choice. But rookies like undrafted free safety Andrew Adams, corner Eli Apple, wide receiver Sterling Shepard, and second-years like Collins, and offensive linemen Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart are key to this team's fate, playing in big spots.
Grading Ben McAdoo: C+
The post-bye version of McAdoo has been encouraging after expected difficulties and growing pains as a rookie coach early: He made considerable changes for Sunday's win against the Eagles and seems more comfortable both putting his own stamp on the team and carrying himself as the team's head coach. He calls the plays on the offense, though, and that's been the Giants' most disappointing unit through eight games.
Grading Eli Manning: C+
He's hampered by no running game, an inconsistent line and play-calling at times, but Manning's eight interceptions to his 12 touchdowns are not acceptable. The 64.4 completion percentage is encouraging but the Giants are only going somewhere if Manning steps it way up.
Need more from: Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul on defense, and everyone on offense
Want to see more of: Bobby Rainey and Perkins at running back
The Sked Ahead: The Giants have four home and four road games each remaining, concluding with a pivotal three NFC East showdowns in the season's final four weeks: Hosting Dallas Dec. 11 on Sunday Night Football, visiting Philadelphia for a Thursday night Dec. 22 clash at Lincoln Financial Field, and closing in Week 17 with a 1 p.m. start at Washington on New Year's Day.
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