JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2022 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.
Up this week:
Newsday New York Giants writer Tom Rock on the Giants as they enter Sunday's 2022 Week 7 game against the Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville.
Q: The Giants are 5-1 and considered a surprise team of the 2022 NFL season. How surprised are you with this start?
A: I thought they were a better team than they were last year [when they finished 4-13] and I thought there were winnable games on the schedule, but some of these games I didn't see as the ones they would win. The last two are really the ones that stand out – against the [Green Bay] Packers and the [Baltimore] Ravens. I thought they would probably be around .500 here and go into a middle part of the schedule with a chance to get a few more wins before they dug really deep into their division schedule toward the end of the season – and that that would make or break their year. To have them at 5-1 now I think is surprising to everyone, probably including themselves.
Q: In a nutshell, why are they 5-1.
A: Because [running back] Saquon Barkley is healthy [from an early-season 2020 torn anterior cruciate ligament]. That's the biggest thing. That's what has been missing from this team all along. Up until this season, quarterback Daniel Jones and Barkley had played only three games in which they were both healthy together. They never had each other to rely on. Having those two elements – the quarterback doesn't have to be the superstar and the superstar gets to be the superstar – that's really the missing ingredient to this offense the last few years. The offensive line also is improved. Andrew Thomas as made a tremendous jump at left tackle to a Pro Bowl-level player. All the offense is clicking together.
Q: Talk about Jones' season this season.
A: He has been very consistent. He hasn't had the big game yet and he might not. He might not have a lot of 300-yard-passing, three-touchdown games in his career, but he's getting the offense up and down the field. The biggest thing you can take from his game so far is what he has been able to do in the times Saquon hasn't been on the field. Daniel Jones in those situations has been able to lift other players this season – guys who have been on the practice squad, guys who are rookies, guys who were forgotten. He's making it work for this offense, and he is winning. That's something that has escaped him throughout his career going back to college. At Duke, that was the knock on him coming out – that he wasn't part of winning team. That was true over his first three NFL seasons. That seems to be a little different this season.
Q: People have assumed in recent seasons that the top running backs in the NFL are Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans and Jonathan Taylor of the Indianapolis Colts. Barkley may top that list now.
A: I think he's the NFL Most Valuable Player. You take him away from this team, they're absolutely nothing. If you take him away from this team, they are where they were the last two years. They use him in a lot of different ways – in motion, out wide, out of the wildcat. He has really developed into a superstar. When [former Giants General Manager] Dave Gettleman drafted him, he said he was a Gold Jacket (Hall of Fame) type of player and a talent that was touched by the hand of God. He is certainly playing up to that level this year. He's better than he was pre-injury. He's smarter. He's wiser. He's older. He's not as reckless. He knows what he wants to do. He knows how to read a defense. He knows how to read his blocks. He didn't know all those things when he was tearing it up as a rookie. Now, he has the wisdom and he has the ability. It's a dangerous combination.
Q: What are they defensively?
A: They're scrappy. They don't allow a lot of big plays. They keep the ball in front of them. They don't necessarily make a lot of big turnovers and splashy hits. [Safety] Xavier McKinney in the back is definitely a playmaker and [nose tackle] Dexter Lawrence has turned into a pass rusher up the middle. He's a monster in the middle of the line and leads the team with four sacks. Their edge rushers are coming along. They had some injuries early on, but rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux had his first sack Sunday and Azeez Ojulari – who thy think is going to be really good – could be back this week from some calf injuries.
Q: What's this team's ceiling? Where do you see this team headed?
A: They've played one NFC East game and that's their one loss – to the [Dallas] Cowboys. They don't play another division game until Thanksgiving when they go to Dallas. They also have two games against Philadelphia, including the last week when they will be in Philly. That could be a meaningful game for either or both teams. I'm not sure they're built for this year. There wasn't a big splurge in free agency. They're carrying a lot of dead weight on the salary cap and a lot of dead weight on the roster. They're incredibly thin. If they lose an offensive lineman, if they lose an edge rusher, if they lose Saquon, I think the season would be over. It's a matter of staying healthy, staying lucky, and a matter of them continuing to believe in themselves. That's what has gotten them this far.