The Giants are on a roll, having won five straight games to move to 7-3 on the season -- the third best record in the NFC. They are handling adversity, winning tight games, and have put themselves in position for their first playoff berth since 2011.
But is it all really as good as it seems?
Maybe it is, but don't forget that the Giants' winning streak has come against teams with a combined 19-30-1 record -- and none better than 5-5. Three of those games were at home. One was in a neutral site. And despite those advantages they've still only won those five games by a combined 23 points.
Winning games is all that matters, of course, and the Giants have won enough to rise above a mediocre pack and put themselves on the fringe of the elite teams in football. And a couple of big wins in December, when the schedule gets tougher, might be enough to make everyone believe.
For now, though, don't cancel your Super Bowl plans, but at least put them on hold for the moment. Because there were good and bad signs in the Giants' 22-16 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday. And I cover them both in my five takeaways from that game:
1.) Landon Collins might be the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year
I must admit I've been a little slow to jump on this bandwagon. Don't get me wrong: I think he's had a terrific second season, but I think some of his interceptions have had more to do with pressure up front and him simply being in the right place at the right time when a ball is overthrown. That counts, though, and his five interceptions lead the league. His coverage has also improved and he's definitely a force when he plays up on the line of scrimmage. And I think it's amazing that he's helped the Giants solidify their safety spot considering the season-ending injury to promising rookie Darian Thompson has left him playing mostly next to undrafted rookie Andrew Adams and, when he's healthy, second-year pro Nat Berhe.
But can he really become the fourth safety in the last 30 years to win the NFL's DPoY award? Awards in all sports are often stat-driven and Collins, in his second season, has the numbers even beyond the INTs. He's got three sacks, 10 passes defensed and an impressive touchdown, which checks the other important box -- a highlight reel that can get the voters' attention. It also helps him that there's no breakaway leader in sacks -- a stat which often drives this award (six players are bunched near the top of that chart with 9 or 10 sacks).
So yeah, it's possible. I think he's going to need two-to-three more interceptions, and he may need Denver's Von Miller (9 ½ sacks) to not capitalize on his fame and go on a tear down the stretch. But at this point, I'd think Collins is in line to at least get some votes.
2.) Finally, a pass rush
Actually, "finally" is not fair since the Giants have 12 of their 18 sacks in the last four games. But they have been pretty consistent in their pass rush the last few weeks and they've been getting better in the fourth quarters. They sacked Jay Cutler four times in the fourth quarter on Sunday. And yeah, the Bears are a mess and were down three starting offensive linemen in the fourth. That matters, but it also matters that the Giants capitalized when the Bears were most vulnerable.
For weeks early in the season the Giants kept saying how sacks didn't matter and pressure was what counted. I only buy that to an extent, since sacks can be pretty important. Also, if the pressure really is good, the sacks will naturally follow. Finally they are coming. And while Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon probably should have more than four sacks each at this point, they are starting to become a disruptive force, especially when it matters most.
3.) The running game is still terrible
I warned about this last week when I thought the numbers the Giants had against the Bengals made it look like their running game was better than it actually was. Sure enough, we saw what it's really about in the fourth quarter against the Bears. While they were trying to protect a lead they ran nine times in the fourth quarter for 24 yards -- and it was really 8 times for 12 yards, plus one stat-busting 12-yard carry. The result was the Giants had four offensive drives in the fourth quarter and got one lousy first down.
The reason for that is the same as it's been all season: This offensive line isn't good. There's not a big push in the running game, and you can see that in the way RB Rashad Jennings often stutter steps behind the line as if he's waiting for a hole to open up. Not even rookie Paul Perkins, with his faster legs and quicker step towards the hole, can find room to run behind this line.
This will be the Giants' Achilles heel in December and, possibly, January if they can't fix it. They have to run the ball to win tough NFC East games in December and they definitely have to run the ball to win games on the road in the playoffs. Even if their passing attack finds the gear it's been missing, there will come a key fourth quarter somewhere where they'll need to run out the clock. And if they don't do it … well, imagine how Sunday would've turned out against a team even a little better offensively than the Bears.
4.) The line isn't much better in pass protection
I know the advanced metrics in some places show the Giants don't give up a lot of pressures, and Ben McAdoo touted the zero sacks. But watching the line it's hard not to see that much of the reason for that is Eli Manning's underrated ability to feel the pressure and move away from it, or to get the ball out of his hands quickly.
It was real obvious on the left side, where Bears rookie linebacker Leonard Floyd got around Giants left tackle Ereck Flowers pretty often, forcing Manning to step up in the pocket. Even if Flowers was trying to ride Floyd wide, he wasn't getting him far enough away to avoid at least a little disruption. And I don't mean to just pick on Flowers, but at this point he should be the anchor of a line that's got issues everywhere else. Remember, they played most of Sunday's game with three players who weren't starters at those positions when the season began -- RT Bobby Hart, LG Marshall Newhouse and Adam Gettis at LG after Newhouse went down.
Regardless, the only time Manning seems to have time in the pocket -- especially to look downfield -- is if he moves himself out of trouble. And that surely is one of the reasons why this attack is tailored around short drops and quick throws.
5.) Odell Beckham needs to be involved more
I will actually give the Giants a little pass on this because the wind was a huge factor in the game. It was impossible to throw far when the wind was in their face, and Manning's throws often sailed high when he had the wind at his back.
That said, as good as Beckham's overall numbers are, he hasn't topped five catches or 50 yards in three of his last four games. I know teams are really concentrating on him and making sure he has no room to run after he catches the ball. As a result, the Giants are looking elsewhere -- like they did on Sunday with rookie Sterling Shepard, who had five catches for 50 yards on 11 targets (to Beckham's 7).
But I still think the Giants have to force the issue and find ways to get the ball in Beckham's hands, even if it's on quick slants or screens that have little chance of gaining big yardage. He is so good and elusive that even when double covered he is much more likely to break free for a long gain than anyone else on the team.
Shepard is a nice player, but he has 44 catches for 476 yards, and nothing longer than 32, which makes him a nice possession receiver. And Victor Cruz is good for one big play every couple of weeks, but with only 26 catches for 425 yards he's a third receiver who doesn't scare anyone anymore.
Beckham is, simply, The Man, and the Giants have to treat him that way. Sometimes it makes sense to do what you do best even if the defense knows it's coming. Trust that Beckham is better than the guys covering him. That's the best way to get this passing attack in gear.