The magic behind the New York Giants' 4-1 start

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The New York Giants are being called the worst 4-1 team in the NFL. “Worst 4-1” was even trending on Twitter prior to Sunday’s 27-22 win over the Green Bay Packers.

Not that they care.

"I don't focus on any of that stuff," coach Brian Daboll said. "Quite honestly, my focus is on trying to do what we need to do each week and be as consistent as we can, whether we're 4-1, 1-4. Whatever our record is that is what our record is."

The point is that this Giants franchise is finally winning games. Nobody on 1925 Giants Drive seems to care that their four wins have come by a combined 17 points, especially after the previous five seasons.

The Giants are in good company: the only other 4-1 teams are the Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings. The Philadelphia Eagles are the sole undefeated team through Week 5.

“It’s hard to win in this league,” said running back Saquon Barkley, who’d never had a winning record during his first four seasons in the league.

Maybe that criticism of the Giants being the “worst” winning team held some merit before Sunday in London. The previous three teams they beat are a combined 6-9.

But the Giants stunned a quality Packers team that was 3-1 in what seemed like Green Bay East at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. They rallied from 14 points down in the first half and shut out Aaron Rodgers over the final 30 minutes.

The Giants have also notched wins over the Tennessee Titans, Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears. It’s all the more impressive that Daboll has done it all with a decimated roster.

How are the Giants doing it?

Bring the Action

The passing game hasn’t produced big numbers, but they’ve managed to make enough plays to keep the offense from getting stagnant. Quarterback Daniel Jones threw for 217 yards Sunday with the wide receiver who played the most snaps – Marcus Johnson (45) – coming from the practice squad.

Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka are using play-action on 39.3% of their dropbacks this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That is the second-highest rate in the NFL behind only the Atlanta Falcons (50%). The Giants used play-action only 23% the previous three seasons.

“It gives you the ability to influence second-level defenders a little bit,” Kafka explained last week. “Those guys are stepping up in the run game, obviously creates a little bit bigger of a window on the second level and then gives you a little more space on the perimeter as well. Those are definitely good aspects of any offense. Our offense, obviously, we’ve done a few more of those. … You have to have the ability to do multiple things. That way you keep the defense on their toes a little bit.”

The play-action passing is working in unison with the league’s top-ranked rushing attack. Jones is completing 78% of his play-action attempts this season. That’s compared to 66% over the previous three years.

Jones went 9-of-10 for 99 yards on play-action passes Sunday against the Packers. If anything, it should prompt Kafka to call even more play action.

Jones on the Move

The Giants offensive line is a better run-blocking unit than they are pass blockers. Jones remains one of the league’s most pressured passers.

The solution has been to get him on the move: Rollouts, bootlegs, designed runs or simply allowing him to scramble.

Jones has 230 yards rushing this season, second among quarterbacks. Only Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts has more. Jones has already scrambled for a career-high nine first downs this season.

But it’s more than just the sheer running to run. There is also the running to pass aspect of it all.

Jones went 4-of-4 for 38 yards with three first downs passing outside the pocket Sunday against the Packers. He’s now completed 63% of his passes outside the pocket this season (71% in wins).

Jones completed 50% of his passes from outside the pocket his first three years.

This has long been a critique of Jones. He’s too athletic and mobile to struggle throwing the ball on the run.

But Jones is being coached up well by this new regime.

Opening Holes

Buried quietly behind Barkley’s brilliance early this season has been how good the Giants’ offensive line is in the run game. Legit good. Barkley is running hard and hitting holes quicker than the past (especially last year), but he’s averaging a career-best 3.2 yards per rush before contact this season. He averaged a healthy 3.7 against the Packers. Credit his O-line.

New York’s line, anchored by left tackle Andrew Thomas, has allowed ball carriers to compile 605 yards before contact. That is the most in the NFL. Barkley’s 314 yards before contact is most among running backs and second only behind Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, who the Giants will host this week.

No Points Here

While the Giants’ offense has done just enough, their aggressive defense is really what is winning them games. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale’s unit has not allowed more than 22 points this season. And Green Bay only reached 22 because the Giants intentionally took a safety at the end of Sunday’s win.

They are doing it by being resilient, some might say bend-but-don’t-break. The Giants are sixth in third-down defense (31.2%), seventh in red-zone (41.2%). That has greatly helped keep the point total down.

Martindale has also used his blitzes masterfully. He’s blitzed on 39% of the opposing teams’ dropbacks, the second-highest rate in the NFL.

The Giants stuffed Green Bay in the red zone in the final two minutes on Sunday to pull off the upset victory. The final play of that drive, a fourth-down pass Xavier McKinney knocked down at the line of scrimmage, was one of those timely blitzes.

Perhaps 4-1 isn't a mirage. Most of this seems sustainable.

“I think if we are playing and finishing games, winning key situations, we can be anywhere,” safety Julian Love said. “Really, the sky is the limit for this team.”