EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ — The Giants sure seem headed to the postseason, barring a colossal collapse. Don’t worry. The appropriate wooden objects were knocked upon the completion of that sentence.
And for many, this success-starved franchise simply reaching the playoffs is enough of an accomplishment in Year 1 of the Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll Era. For others, though, it’s not.
Making the postseason is good. Making your presence felt once in is better.
The likelihood of the latter looks a heckuva lot better now than it did before this week began.
Cornerback Adoree Jackson and safety Xavier McKinney are back at practice. They have a chance to play, Daboll said.
The magnitude of that cannot be undersold.
It’s truly remarkable what the Giants have accomplished this year considering the lack of talent on this roster. Unfortunately, those limitations are a big reason their strong start has deteriorated.
The Giants are still in prime position to clinch their first playoff berth since 2016, but they’re in that position almost entirely because of their 7-2 start. They’re limping to the finish line. The Giants have just two wins since the calendar turned to November.
Injuries have played a large part in these recent sputters. The impending returns of Jackson and McKinney will go a long way in flipping the script.
The Giants followed a very similar script to wins earlier in the season. There are country ranchers with a higher ceiling than New York’s offense, but Daboll and coordinator Mike Kafka are self aware enough to realize this. They’ve mastered the art of keeping (the majority of) games close into the fourth quarter, trusting in their ability to out-coach and out-scheme the opposition.
The offense was afforded the opportunity to tread water, though, because of their defense. Wink Martindale‘s unit was the one area the Giants didn’t lack talent. They, when healthy, had players up front Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams. They had rushers in Azeez Ojulari and Kayvon Thibodeaux. The secondary had talent, too, with McKinney, Jackson and Julian Love. The linebackers were and are troublesome (Landon Collins, Jaylon Smith)but the ability of those in front and behind them allowed Martindale ample opportunities to hide their deficiencies.
Then McKinney injured himself during the bye. Then Jackson hurt himself returning a punt.
The defense allowed an average of 26 points per game since Week 10. The defense allowed an average of 19,625 points per game the first nine weeks of the season. The former per-game average, over the course of a 17-game season, would rank 29th. The latter would rank sixth.
“It just sucks not being able to play with them,” Jackson said. “That’s the most frustrating part in the eyes of a competitor and the eyes of an athlete – wanting to be out there.
“I’m out there itching and working to get back out there. So, that’s how I look at it regardless of the situation that may play out. It’s always frustrating not being out there.”
Those injuries by themselves aren’t backbreaking. The defense just needed to lean on their offense until they healed up. Unfortunately, when the offense is already leaning on the defense, well, both groups collapsed. There’s no denying Jackson and McKinney were the two most expensive.
Jackson had 51 tackles, seven pass breakups, a forced fumble and two recoveries in the 10 games before his injury. ProFootballFocus graded him out with a 72.2 mark. McKinney had 38 tackles, four pass breakups, a forced fumble and a sack before going down. He didn’t grade out as well (56.3) analytically, but his impact in the secondary cannot be undersold.
Daboll isn’t committing to either player returning for Sunday’s game against the Colts, and it seems a bit more likely that Jackson plays than McKinney. But the two are on track to return by Wild Card weekend. The Giants punch their ticket there with one more win.
A rematch with Minnesota in the Wild Card round is a distinct possibility. It took a 61-yard field goal for the Vikings to move past New York a week ago — and that was with both the team’s best cornerback and safety watching from the side.
You like New York’s chances with both of them back. Not just to make the postseason, but some noise once in there.
“Man, I want to get back big time,” McKinney said. “The coaches know that, and the trainers know that. They know that I really want to get back and I’m kind of running out of patience here.”