In his first half-season as Giants head coach, Ben McAdoo has won in Dallas, ended a long Giants losing streak against the Eagles, and directed the team to a 5-3 record that puts them squarely in playoff position heading into the second half.
What more could anyone have wanted?
So for now, never mind the controversies that have swarmed around his team, the play-calling some of you hate, the questionable personnel and lack of depth on some parts of the roster. Focus on the three-game winning streak and the way the Giants held on for a 28-23 win over the Eagles on Sunday. There's a lot to digest from the somewhat impressive (and somewhat not impressive) way the Giants came out of their bye week.
Here are my five takeaways from the Giants' win:
1.) The offensive tweaks were mostly minor
A lot was made on the broadcasts and postgame about the changes McAdoo made during the bye week. A lot of people seem to think they were significant, but I don't think I'm buying that. There were subtle tweaks in the game plan and some obvious personnel changes, but overall the philosophy of the offense seemed pretty much the same to me. It's still a pass-heavy offense that relies on short, quick passes that -- if they work -- can set up deep shots. And McAdoo still doesn't fully trust his running game. Against the Eagles, even while mostly playing with a lead, he called 37 passes and 22 runs.
The personnel changes were all helpful, though. The benching of the ineffective Larry Donnell at tight end was overdue (he played zero offensive snaps). It was also good to see them use Marshall Newhouse as the "jumbo" tight end on some run downs -- something they should've done sooner with Will Beatty (though the fact that they didn't, probably says a lot). Even before Victor Cruz hurt his ankle, it was clear Roger Lewis was going to get some of his snaps, which is fair since other than a couple of big plays, Cruz hasn't been very effective. Also, with Cruz out, Sterling Shepard got more snaps out of the slot, which helped the offense diversify. And getting Paul Perkins involved more in the run game was worth a shot, even though he really didn't do much (11 carries for 32 yards, three catches for 15 yards).
2.) Unsung hero: Keenan Robinson
It was early in the game and who knows how things would've been different, but late in the second quarter, Eagles RB Darren Sproles took off what sure looked like it was going to be a punt return for a touchdown until Robinson chased him down and knocked him (barely) out of bounds. It was still a 66-yard return that set the Eagles up at the Giants' 15, but it became a seven-point swing when the Giants stopped the Eagles on 4th-and-1 from the 6. Robinson, perhaps the free agent addition that got the least attention for the Giants last offseason, has been a solid, steady presence on the defense. He was second on the team with 10 tackles on Sunday and is a big reason why they've been so effective against the run.
3.) Don't get worked up over Eli Apple's struggles
That was his worst game of the season (and his career) as he missed tackles and blew assignments and was eventually benched. The good news is he's been much better and he didn't look physically overwhelmed. He just looked … well, lost at times. And McAdoo was right to take him out for Trevin Wade. But don't make this out to be something it's not, and don't pin it on his mom's media career either. Yes, she made things awkward this week when she wrote for SI.com that the Giants were somehow "leaning on" her son because she blasted John Mara over the Josh Brown situation, and he came out and said that was "false." That's likely to affect Thanksgiving dinner far more than it's going to affect how Apple plays on the field, though. It's not like he was lining up in coverage on Sunday thinking "Oh no, what is my mom going to say now!?!"
4.) Steve Spagnuolo's defensive tweaks may have been more important than the offensive changes
The Giants' pass rush still isn't racking up the sacks the way everyone expected, but they're starting to get pressure more consistently and they definitely made Eagles rookie QB Carson Wentz uncomfortable in the pocket. And here's the thing about defense -- when the key guys start playing better, it frees up the defensive coordinator to be more aggressive and more creative. Spags varied his fronts against the Eagles more than I've seen him do in a while and he was aggressive with blitzes right up into the fourth quarter. By keeping the pressure on Wentz he forced him into early interceptions and some poor throws late in the game when the Eagles were trying to mount a comeback. Sure it helped that Wentz is a rookie, but it was still refreshing to see the Giants' defense dictate how the game went in the fourth quarter.
5.) Why can't anyone cover a tight end?
Now that I've praised the Giants' defense, they have a big issue covering tight ends and it's really been years in the making. They don't really have a linebacker fast and big enough (and good enough in coverage) to hang with the better tight ends, and they're so thin at safety it's hard to get help there. Plus, coverage isn't necessarily Landon Collins' strongest suit. But it goes beyond individual players. The Eagles' tight ends (Zach Ertz, Trey Burton) combined for 11 catches (on 11 targets) for 152 yards, and the amount of times they were wide open in the middle of the field was mind-boggling. There are a lot of teams the Giants will face with terrific tight ends in the coming weeks (see: Dallas' Jason Witten and Washington's Jordan Reed, for example). That's going to be the Achilles Heel of this defense if the Giants don't plug that hole.
Bonus: I was with Eagles coach Doug Pederson when he went for it on 4th-and-2 from the Giants' 23 on the first play of the second quarter down 14-3. They had gift-wrapped two touchdowns for the Giants in the first quarter so this was a good, aggressive try to get back in the game. No guts, no glory, right? But the play-call was just stupid -- an option run for Carson Wentz where he basically ran straight to his left for a 4-yard loss? Running the QB is about the last thing he should've tried there. The second time he tried it was later in the second quarter, on 4th-and-1 from the 6 down 21-10. Having failed the first time it's hard to endorse doubling down there, especially when a chip-shot field goal cuts the deficit to 8. But he ran Sproles on a power run behind a fullback, so the Eagles probably could've picked up the half-yard they needed. Yeah, in the end, those six points were huge. I get it. That's hindsight, though. I'm a fan of aggressive play-calling, but the play-calling has to be smart.