Everybody on the bandwagon! And make room for me, because the Giants have most definitely made me a believer. I'm not sure what I'm believing in exactly -- that they're a legitimate contender or on some sort of destiny trip towards Super Bowl XLI. But after what I've seen the last two weeks, I'm done doubting them.
It's only fair, really. Like everyone else who watched them survive despite their flaws during their six-game win streak, I wanted to see more. I trumpeted the big step up in class provided by their December schedule and I wondered if they'd be up to the task. Then they faltered in Pittsburgh, showing all the same flaws and having them cost them a win, and it looked like they maybe weren't as good as they wanted everyone to believe.
But there's no doubt about it -- beating the NFC East-leading Cowboys and the NFC North-leading Lions in back-to-back weeks is legitimate. Yes, they were both at home where the Giants are 7-1. And yes, they didn't exactly light it up on offense, with less than 600 yards total in the two games and a paltry 27 combined points. But they won with some powerful defense and, in the case of their 17-6 win over Detroit, an offense that at least managed to come through when it counted the most.
So yes, I'm on board wherever this bandwagon is going. But I'll still cover the bad with the good in my five takeaways from Sunday's game:
This defense is deeper than anyone thought
Early in the season it really looked thin behind the first team, but a thin team wouldn't survive -- and thrive -- first without Jason Pierre-Paul and then without Janoris "Jackrabbit" Jenkins. Against Dallas the Giants got a huge performance from rookie DE Romeo Okwara and some terrific play from LB Devon Kennard. This week, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie stepped up and so did CB/S Leon Hall, who used his head -- literally -- to cause a huge fumble just as it looked like the Lions were heading to a touchdown. You can find a lot of other "small" plays chipped in by players who stepped up big-time. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has a lot of game-ready pieces to work with now, and it shows.
It's time for more Paul Perkins
The Giants' backfield was an even timeshare between Perkins, the rookie, and Rashad Jennings. But Perkins did far more damage. Jennings carried 18 times for 38 yards and Perkins carried 11 times for 56 yards. Neither was involved as a receiver, but Perkins' blocking is getting better and the Giants are going to trust him more in passing situations -- especially if, as expected, Shane Vereen (triceps) is out. He just looks more explosive than Jennings, though. He hits the hole harder. He has more of a burst after he gets the ball in his hands. Jennings is still good and can still be effective, and he's an effective blocker too. So the Giants should still use him. They just need to use Perkins more.
I love Odell Beckham as a punt returner, but it scares me
I think he's a good weapon to have back there. He's obviously much more dangerous than Dwayne Harris and he's already taken two punts back for touchdowns, including a 63-yarder in the fourth quarter on Sunday (though both were called back by penalties). It's great to use him when the Giants need a spark, and he can provide it. But it's a dangerous game because a punt returner has 11 guys running the length of the field straight at him. Do you really want Beckham in that position, as he was on Sunday, when the Giants are getting the ball back with five minutes to go in the game and they're leading 17-6? They didn't need a spark there. They needed someone to simply catch the ball and let the offense do it's stuff. Sure, a touchdown -- had it stood -- would've made the Giants' lead really insurmountable. But you can't count on a touchdown every time Beckham returns it. So in that case, his presence back there just wasn't worth the risk.
Why do teams bother running the ball on DT Damon Harrison?
Seriously, they rarely succeed. There was a play where the Giants lined up with three men on the defensive line and a big hole next to Harrison as if they were daring the Lions to run it up the middle. Lions QB Matt Stafford took the bait and audibled to a run out of the shotgun. As soon as he gave the ball to RB Dwayne Washington, Harrison threw his blocker aside and nailed Washington at the line of scrimmage for no gain. The guy is a monster in the middle. And if he doesn't make the Pro Bowl as a defensive tackle when the teams are announced on Tuesday night, something is really wrong.
Winning at home is easy. Winning on the road will be much harder.
Keep that in mind when you feel like this is somehow a repeat of the 2007 or 2011 seasons. The 2007 team, of course, went on the road throughout the playoffs and won a Super Bowl. But they were the original "Road Warriors." After their Opening Day loss in Dallas, they won 11 straight games away from home -- seven in the regular season and four in the playoffs. And even the 2011 team was 5-3 on the road (though one of the "road" games was at the Jets. They had big road wins in Philly, Arizona, New England and Dallas.
This Giants team? Their road record is spotty so far. They're 3-3, and while one of those wins was a huge Opening Day win in Dallas, the other two are at Cleveland and against the Rams at a neutral site in London. Arguably their three toughest road trips -- at Green Bay, Minnesota and Pittsburgh -- resulted in bad losses by a combined score of 71-40. Those were also three of their worst performances so far this season.
Considering that with their struggling offense, and in particular their weak running game, they aren't exactly built for road success, it would be a big boost of confidence for them to pick off at least one, and maybe both of their final two games -- at Philadelphia and at Washington. They have not earned the title of "Road Warriors" just yet, and with the possibility of a first-round game in maybe Green Bay or Seattle, or a second-round game in Seattle or Dallas, they're going to have to earn it eventually.