Big Blue’s Defense Picks Up the Slack Once Again

giants-sack-dalton-jim-mcisaac

The Giants dialed up the pressure on Andy Dalton in the closing minutes of a 21-20 victory over the Bengals on Monday Night Football (Credit: Jim McIsaac/Newsday) 

– Jim Bearor

The Giants squeaked out a 21-20 win over the Bengals on Monday Night Football to make it four straight, bringing them to 6-3 on the year. At halftime, former general manager Ernie Accorsi, former defensive end Justin Tuck, and former head coach Tom Coughlin were all inducted into Big Blue’s Ring of Honor. It was an event of a night, and the stage was set for Big Blue to either send a message or falter while everyone was watching. I expected a bit of both, and I think that’s what we got.

The end result was satisfying, but the process was every bit as clunky as it has been all season. Eli and the offense marched right down the field on the first possession with six receptions by six different receivers and zero rushing plays on first down. I enjoyed that for all of ten minutes before dropped passes, penalties, and a bad Eli interception brought me back to earth. The defense was steady though, keeping Dalton and Green in check and limiting them to a field goal after Dre Kirkpatrick’s pick put them in prime field position. Then New York’s offense started clicking again,  and culminated in an Odell Beckham Jr. touchdown and his rendition of the “Thriller” dance before halftime.

‘Member when Beckham was a distraction? Ooh yeah, I ‘member!

The third quarter was largely unwatchable and seemed to be all about not throwing the ball to Odell, who was only targeted twice, catching one. The Bengals put up ten points in the quarter and the Giants punted three times before they finally put together a nice drive that ended with a two yard Sterling Shephard touchdown on fourth and goal at the beginning of the final period.

No more points would be scored and McAdoo deserves credit for that decision, but once again, the real heroes of the story were the guys on defense. Shephard’s score came with 14:05 remaining, and that was the last we heard from the offense outside of a gritty run for a first down by Rashad Jennings that killed the clock and clinched the game. Between these moments, there was another Eli interception and a weak 19 yard drive followed by a punt.

So quickly, Big Blue’s possessions for the game went like this: Touchdown, punt, punt, turnover on downs, interception, touchdown, punt, punt, punt, touchdown, interception, punt, end of game. That is not ok. Luckily for them (and for those of us who insanely invest in them emotionally), Jason Pierre-Paul and company had their backs. Landon Collins had another interception, his fourth in three games. Olivier Vernon racked up ten tackles and was a consistent force coming off the edge. Damon Harrison did exactly what he was paid to do, which is eat up the middle of the line. Janoris Jenkins played solid and physical defense on AJ Green, whose touchdown was not his responsibility. Time after time, Spagnuolo’s squad has answered the bell, bailing out Eli and the sputtery offense more often than they should be expected to.

They don’t have impressive sack numbers, and outside of Collins, they haven’t been forcing many turnovers, but this is a very good defense that has proven definitively that it is capable of picking up slack and keeping games close. All these wins have been close, each with a margin of victory smaller than a touchdown, and a cumulative total of +21 in the six games Big Blue has come out on top. This probably shouldn’t inspire hope, because these are all games that could have gone either way, yet I don’t believe I’m alone in thinking the offense has a great deal of untapped potential that could take this team to the next level.

Jennings’ game-clinching run and the one after that were nice to see, but there is still reason for concern in the ground game. The offensive line held up fairly well without leader Justin Pugh, and I thought the rotation of Marshall Newhouse, Brett Jones, and Bobby Hart up front could have been a disaster. Eli has impressive drives like the one to start the game, then he’ll throw some ugly ducks and cringe-worthy interceptions to keep the opponent in the game. Sometimes Roger Lewis Jr. will run a wrong route. Sometimes Shepard will drop a ball.

At the beginning of the season, seeing the offense take the field would get me feeling antsy in the best ways. Between the level of talent at skill positions, and Eli entering his third year in McAdoo’s system, I figured the sky was the limit and I was hyped as all hell to watch the fireworks. Now when I’m watching games, I feel like I should be apologizing to the defense and vouching for the offense like they’re a friend who’s running late.

Thanks, I really appreciate what you’re doing for us, can you please just keep it up for a little longer? I promise they’re on their way…

That’s where I’m at as a fan. Hopefully the offense shows up before the defense slips a little, otherwise us Giants fans may be in for an unfulfilling finish to the year. These next two games, versus the Bears then Browns, are as good of an opportunity to get right as a team could ask for. Big Blue is 6-3 and 8-3 looks very attainable, as does a playoff berth, but none of that matters if they keep leaving the defense out to dry.


 

– Jim Bearor (@JimBearor)jimbearor

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