Team Giants


Special Report

Sent: 06-30-22

Dave Klein was the Giants' beat writer for The Star-Ledger from 1961 to 1995.
He is the author of 26 books and he was one of only three sportswriters to have covered all the Super Bowls up until last year. Dave has allowed TEAM GIANTS to reprint some of his articles.

During this prolonged, or does it just seem that way, preseason period, our Scott Landstrom has found time to research the eerie similarities between the 2007 Giants, who "shocked the world" and took a 9-7 record into the Super Bowl where they beat the undefeated New England Patriots, and this year's version, the 2022 Giants, who seem to be gifted with the same incredible improvements. This year's Giants have been picked the second-most likely to "shock the world" yet again. Read on see if you agree.

By Scott Landstrom
Well, the other day I had some work to do on my laptop computer, but had ESPN on in the background, with the entertaining "Keyshawn, JWill, and Max" show being aired.
Their subject for can be paraphrased as follows: "The 2020 Cincinnati Bengals finished in last place in the AFC North with a 4-12-1 record. Yet the very next season, 2021, they won the AFC Championship and came one solitary play from upsetting the Rams and winning the Lombardi Trophy. Which teams, if any, are capable of being this year's Cincinnati Bengals miracle team, and "rising from the ashes" of ineptitude?"
So the three of them conducted a poll and concluded there were four teams capable of (read: not that it's likely, just that it's possible) a deep playoff run in 2022 after doing really poorly in the 2021 season.
And as I typed away on my computer, I heard that their number one selection was the Jacksonville Jaguars, which I didn't find all that surprising. While their record was terrible, Urban Meyer was running a "clown show" of bad judgments, bad motivation, and off-field embarrassments. They ended up having three different "signature wins," all three against winning teams - beating Miami, Buffalo, and Indianapolis, the latter by 26-11 on the final day of the regular season. AND they have an uber-talented young QB in Trevor Lawrence and a pretty decent defense. I shook my head in agreement and waited for which team would be next.
And would you believe it - their No. 2 choice for a team that could "shock the world" after being bad last season was none other than your New York Giants!
Let me try to paraphrase their logic as follows.
After years of wallowing with a "bottom three" offensive line, New York has FINALLY fixed it, and will likely have an above average O-line this season. Saquon Barkley has looked as healthy as a thoroughbred racehorse this summer, which makes sense. This is his second season back after ACL surgery, and this is a kid who had over 2,000 yards of total offense in his rookie season behind an atrocious run blocking line. Imagine what a healthy Barkley could do with a semi-elite run blocking line? AND a tight end who relishes run blocking (rookie Daniel Bellinger) instead of a tight end who HATED it (Evan Engram).
Moreover, Daniel Jones has never once played a season in which his offensive line did NOT finish in the dregs of the league in "Pass Block Win Rate," finishing 28th in 2021, and dead last (32nd) in 2020. Imagine what the kid can do if they actually pass block for him and give him some time in the pocket?
Then, they argued, you mix in one of the top "offensive minded" head coach/offensive coordinator combinations in the entire NFL in Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka, and this offense could dwarf the output seen the past few seasons.
They then went on to talk about defense, and the value of getting "tackling machine" Blake Martinez back from a knee injury and adding the "best defensive player in the draft" in Kayvon Thibodeaux to a young defense that already had rising stars Xavier McKinney and Azeez Ojulari, both on track to make some Pro Bowls soon in their careers.
Then you add two above-average defensive tackles with Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams, add "top-five" rated coverage cornerback Adoree Jackson and Wink Martindale to dial up some exotic blitzes, and they could clearly be "cooking with gas" on defense.
So apparently, I am not the ONLY one that is "drinking the Kool-Aid" that Joe Schoen and Daboll are concocting and serving. And exactly then is when it hit me. These three sports analysts were trying to get a read on any team that could "shock the world" in the manner the Bengals did, going from last place to deep into the playoffs (in fact, one missed pass from winning the Super Bowl.) And when I think of a Giants' team that clearly "shocked the world" it is obviously the 2007 team, which beat the mighty 17-0 New England Patriots as 18-point underdogs in Super Bowl 42, showing up with a 9-7 regular season record against an undefeated opponent.
And do you know what? This 2022 Giants team has some eerie similarities to that "shock the world" 2007 team. Some of them are such remote possibilities that it is "spooky." Check it out as follows:
Both teams had/have first year offensive AND defensive coordinators:
The 2007 team hired Steve Spagnuolo to run the 4-3 defense and Kevin Gilbride as OC, who would remain in that role for six more seasons until his retirement. Both coordinators played central roles in their miracle playoff run. The 2022 team has Martindale as DC and Kafka as OC, both completely new to the team this season.
When you are on a team coming off a 4-13 season, losing the last six games consecutively by an average of 14 points, having some "new blood" in the top coordinator ranks is a good thing.
Both teams had elite first round drafted QBs from southeastern schools, both coached in college by David Cutcliffe, each was/will be playing in their fourth NFL season, who both stood 6-5 in stature:
It is pretty frightening the number of parallels that Daniel Jones has today to a young Eli Manning going into the 2007 season. If he can only capture the same "play your best when the lights are brightest" that Elisha captured that season, we could be in for a great ride.
Both teams were/are deep in talent at the WR position:
In fact, if you look at the physical characteristics, the "top three" receivers on both teams include: a) a tall, physical "possession receiver" who can be a red-zone threat (Plaxico Burress in 2007, who actually caught the game winner in the Super Bowl, and Kenny Golladay of the modern team, who led the NFL in TD receptions just three seasons ago). Then both teams also include b) a wily and shifty veteran who leads the entire team in tenure with the Giants at the time (Amani Toomer for the 2007 team, Sterling Shepard for the modern team).
Finally, both teams included c) an explosive second-year receiver who is extremely difficult to cover (Steve Smith for the 2007 team, who would later catch over 100 passes in a season for NY, Kadarius Toney for the 2022 team, who just OOZES talent and "uncoverable" attributes). So the formula that "fits" both receiver units is big, tall possession receiver, shifty talented veteran, and an explosive and uncoverable second year player.
Both teams emphasize a RB who is perhaps unparalleled in the league at that time in size/speed/power ratio:
The 2007 team starred Brandon Jacobs, who was the biggest, most powerful starting RB the league has seen before or since at 6-4, 264 pounds. And for a man that size, his 4.52 forty time was exceptional. The current team boasts "Sa-quads" Barkley, who can "squat" an amazing 650 pounds and runs a 4.40 forty (second best of all RBs at his combine) at 6-0, 234 pounds, and whose vertical jump was an amazing 41.0 inches, leading all running backs in that event.
Both teams featured late round draft choices who were powerful blockers with great hands, who were replacing long time first-round drafted starters:
Everyone remembers the David Tyree "helmet catch" as the most spectacular individual play in Super Bowl history. But that play never happens without fifth round draft choice Kevin Boss' 45-yard catch-and-run down the right sideline to get the Giants off their own goal line and in position for the Tyree pass.
Boss was replacing Jeremy Shockey, of course, who was injured and lost for the season. The 2022 team has rookie fourth round draft choice Bellinger, a tenacious blocker who didn't drop a single pass his senior season at San Diego State, and is replacing long-time starter, first rounder Engram, who the team allowed to "walk away" in free agency.
Both teams feature THREE "elite" linemen on their offensive lines:
The 2007 team featured Shaun O'Hara at center, head coach Tom Coughlin's son-in-law Chris Snee at right guard and Kareem McKenzie at right tackle. That turned line into a very "right handed" unit in terms of its designed runs. The 2022 team has left tackle Andrew Thomas (who was a "top 12" tackle last season in PFF), right guard Mark Glowinski (who was a "top 18" guard in PFF) and man-mountain rookie Evan Neal, all 6-7, 350 pounds of him out of Alabama who may be the greatest offensive line prospect to come out of college since guard Quinton Nelson out of Notre Dame in 2018.
In fact, I will say it right now: The Giants have gone from being pathetic at offensive tackle in 2020, and leading the NFL in sacks allowed by tackles, to a place where I would not even think about trading the combination of Thomas and Neal for any other team's starting tackles, given their talent levels and youthfulness.
On Defense, both teams have explosive 250-260 pound "edge rushers" on both sides of the formation:
The 2007 team had Hall of Famer Michael Strahan at left end, who was in his last season, and had reduced his weight from 270 pounds to 255 pounds, and lightning-fast 252-pound Osi Umenyiora at right end. Oh, and if either of them got tired, they put in future star Justin Tuck.
The current team features Ojulari, who broke the franchise rookie record for QB sacks (eight), despite getting very little help from the other side of the formation, and showed up this camp as the "Hulk," up from 245 to 255 pounds, and "explosive" pass rusher 256-pound Thibodeaux, who some teams (I am looking at you, Jerry Jones) had rated as the best overall player in the entire 2022 Draft, regardless of position. And perhaps (to be determined) someone like Oshane Ximines or Micah Fitzpatrick in the "role" of Tuck (first reserve edge rusher into the game).
Both teams featured a veteran "tackling machine" at "MLB" obtained from another team:
The 2007 team could not have gotten nearly as far in its playoff run without MLB Antonio Pierce, traded over from Washington, calling the defensive signals and having over 100 tackles on the season for them.
And we all saw how the 2021 defense suffered massively the instant Martinez went down for the season with a no-contact ACL tear. By all accounts, Martinez will be ready for opening day, and since he tore his knee in the second week, he will have had almost a full year to rehab. Martinez' total of 151 tackles in 2020 set a team record.
Pretty eerie list, no? Now just to be clear, no analyst in his right mind would predict this 2022 Giants team to duplicate the accomplishments of the 2007 world champions, or even the 2021 Bengals, but the point above is that the "formula" being used seems spookily familiar in many ways, in building this team back up to a competitive team that can be talked about as highly as the ESPN analysts were articulating the other day.
Oh, and one bit of an "epilogue." I have seen so many "talking heads" saying that losing CB James Bradberry due to salary cap constraints is a huge blow to the team. This makes me recall a saying we used to utter in semiconductor engineering when presented with difficult problems… "In God we trust - all others bring data!" So here is the "data" on Mr. Bradberry, who Mr. Gettleman had committed to pay $21.2 M this season.
He was coming off a superb 2020 season in which he made the Pro Bowl, was fifth in PFF coverage grade with a 79.9, had a superb "QB rating against" of 70.1 and only allowed three TD passes all season.
But wait, let's examine how he did in the 2021 season, shall we. This is "more current" data, right? Well, his PFF season "coverage" grade dropped 15 points, and was 65.0, good enough for 33rd out of 72 CBs who played at least 425 snaps. In other words, he went from being a Pro Bowler in 2020 to an "average" CB in 2021 according to PFF. His "QB rating against" rose OVER 30 POINTS, and was 100.3, good for 50th out of 72 (bottom third of the league), and his "touchdown passes allowed" went from three to eight - tying him for the league DFL position in that metric.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the formation, Adoree Jackson had a coverage grade of 80.9, good for fourth place in the NFL among qualified CBs, his passer rating against was 72.3, good for ninth best, and his touchdown passes allowed was two.
Seems to me like we clearly kept the right player and let the declining player "walk" and share his gifts with none other than the hated Philadelphia Eagles. And while Bradberry was great at breaking up passes, he simply got beat too often to play "lock down corner" for the Giants. Plain and simple.
Enjoy his 100.3 "QB rating against" Eagle fans, as well as James leading the NFL in allowed TD passes!!

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