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Protecting the Football Is Key to Giants’ Playoff Hopes

Despite starting the season 0-5, the New York Giants have put themselves in position to contend for a division title and playoff spot in the dreadful NFC East. Winners of two straight, both against divisional opponents, they currently sit in a three-way tie for second place, one-half game behind the Eagles.

One of the biggest turnarounds for the Giants is that QB Daniel Jones has been protective with the football. Over the last two games, he has committed zero turnovers — the first time in his career that he’s gone consecutive games without a turnover. With his first couple seasons being defined by his inability to protect the football, Jones’ last two games should be encouraging for Giants fans.

Coming off their bye week, what do the Giants need to do to keep the momentum going? The offensive line will be an area of focus. The line had been playing better of late, but head coach Joe Judge fired offensive line coach Marc Columbo last week after the two had a dispute. The line needs to build chemistry with its new coach.

The Giants have been in plenty of close games this season. Of the seven games they have lost, five have been by one score or less. If you exclude their 27-point loss to the 49ers in Week 3, they have lost by an average of 4.7 points per game. Since that blowout loss, New York hasn’t lost a game by more than two scores. Their turnover differential is plus-4 since Week 3, having only two multi-turnover games since then.

Over the last two weeks, though, Jones and the Giants offense have been exceptional at protecting the football. Check out some of the key differences between the last two games for New York and the first eight:

Last two games:

  • RB rushing yards/game – 114.50
  • RB rushing TDs – 3
  • First downs/game – 22
  • Pressure percentage allowed – 27.50
  • Turnovers forced by defense – 2.50

First eight games:

  • RB rushing yards/game – 55.63
  • RB rushing TDs – 4
  • First downs/game – 18.88
  • Pressure percentage allowed – 30.69
  • Turnovers forced by defense – 1.25

It will be key for the Giants to continue to improve in these categories down the stretch.

Jones has been getting the ball out of his hands much quicker over the last two weeks. From Weeks 1-8, Jones took an average of 2.84 seconds to throw the ball, 18th in the league. Over the last two weeks, Jones has improved upon this time to throw significantly. In Weeks 9-10, Jones has cut that time to 2.42 seconds. Wide receiver Sterling Shepard may have something to do with this improved time to throw. Shepard missed Weeks 3-6; over that time, Jones’ average time to throw was 3.05. Since Shepard has returned, Jones’ average has been 2.48.

It’s also worth noting the Giants’ competition. Philly and Washington, while both have struggled this season, have played well against the pass. Both are ranked in the top 10 in fewest passing yards allowed and both are in the top five in sacks.

However, both Philadelphia and Washington are near the bottom of the league in takeaways. So the real key for New York will be Jones’ ability to continue protecting the football as he faces teams that are better at taking it away.

Four of the final six teams on the schedule — Seattle, Arizona, Cleveland and Baltimore – are in the top half of the league in turnovers forced. And unlike Philly and Washington, all have winning records. These games will be telling as to how improved Jones is at protecting the football …and where the Giants will finish in the NFC East.