Credit is due where it’s due: head coach Brian Daboll’s New York Giants have gotten off to a 3-1 start. That’s a major improvement over where they were this time last year, which was 1-3 and fresh off their first victory of the season.
This team is playing better football than a year ago, that part can’t be debated. Saquon Barkley is back to his incredible self, the defense has played well for the most part, and the Giants are off to their best start in years.
However, it's fair to question how good this team actually is, and if they can continue their winning ways as their schedule becomes more difficult. You can play only who's in front of you, but the Giants haven’t faced the most strenuous bunch of teams. They have wins over the Tennessee Titans, Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears by a combined 12 points. None of those teams appear to be playoff-bound right now, especially the Panthers, who look like they might not win another game for the rest of the season.
Let’s start with the good. Barkley looks like Saquon Barkley again. The former second overall draft pick has shown all the speed, acceleration and strength that made him a coveted running back prospect and instantly one of the most feared runners in the league upon his arrival to the NFL in 2018. Barkley leads the league with 463 rushing yards and has cemented himself as an elite playmaker. According to Ben Baldwin of The Athletic, the Giants are one of 10 teams that are generating positive expected points per rushing attempt. Barkley’s ability to find creases and explode down the field are a big reason why they’re statistically performing well on the ground. For Barkley, this is a fantastic time to return to form because his contract is set to expire after the season, and he’s proving exactly how valuable he is to the franchise.
The Giants also have a budding superstar along the offensive line in Andrew Thomas. He has developed into one of the premier left tackles in the league and gives the Giants room for error and flexibility in their run game due to how dominant he is. Evan Neal, the seventh overall draft pick this past spring, is still getting used to the speed of the NFL, but the Giants have a potential offensive tackle duo with sky-high upside.
Lastly, Wink Martindale has the Giants' defense performing fairly well considering they have a lot of room to improve in terms of personnel. New York ranks 17th in expected points allowed per play on defense (0.020) this year. That’s largely been without the services of young edge rushers Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari, who have been dealing with injuries. They’ve played some of the worst offenses in the league, but they’ve played well enough against those units to win games.
Now, the bad stuff. While Barkley has been phenomenal, the Giants' offense as a whole? Not so much. They've scored 20 points just two times in four games. Among the 32 quarterbacks with at least 64 plays on the season, Daniel Jones ranks 24th in expected points added per play (-0.041) and 24th in success rate (43.5%).
To be fair to Jones, the offense’s sputtering is not all his fault. Kadarius Toney has been dealing with a hamstring injury, Kenny Golladay is averaging 5.5 receiving yards per game and they still have protection issues up front with the youth and new faces trying to get up to speed. Still, Jones needs to be better for the Giants. Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka are paid to figure out how to get this offense humming again and right now they aren’t getting much of anything going that doesn’t involve handing the ball to Barkley. On paper, New York appears to have enough firepower to perform better than 5.2 yards per play, 20th in the league.
They've also been able to win games without much help from their pass rush. According to Sports Info Solutions, the Giants are generating pressure on 30.7% of their opponent's dropbacks, good for 26th in the league. Thibodeaux and Ojulari getting more reps underneath them should help in that regard, but with a defensive coordinator who's known for blitzing, that number should be a lot higher.
It might be a bit early to definitively answer the question, but the Giants have a lot of areas to improve for a team that's 3-1. There are parts of this team that really work, but they’ll need to get more production out of their passing game on both sides of the ball to give themselves a chance to sustain their winning ways.
Still, closing games with a “W” in the NFL deserves credit — cautious optimism is probably the best way to handle these Giants.