To say the Giants’ defense is playing at a championship level may be premature.
This is a team, after all, that is 5-7, has no guarantee of making the postseason despite being tied for first place in the NFC East, and will face two of the league’s most dangerous offenses in the next two weeks.
Those are just some of the reasons why players and coaches are not yet ready to put that crown on the unit. Despite the Giants’ four straight wins, there still is a lot to prove.
But here is what can be factually said about the Giants’ defense in regard to that ultimate goal: The last two times it has played at the current level, it has resulted in championships.
The Giants have allowed fewer than 21 points in each of their past four games. That hadn’t happened since they did it for six straight games during the 2011 season (the final two games of the regular season and a four-game run through the playoffs).
The time before that? The four postseason games played and won by the 2007 team.
"We know what we’re capable of and we’ve gotten better every week and we’re starting to show the type of team we can be, the type of consistency that we can bring out there," linebacker and defensive captain Blake Martinez said on Thursday. "When we can do that, we can go against any team, whether it’s a playoff team or a non-playoff team."
Last week’s effort, holding the Seahawks to 12 total points (really 10, given that two came on a safety after a blocked punt), certainly announced that to the rest of the NFL.
"This unit is really coming together nicely," Joe Judge said of his defense. "They’re building on their ability to play with a lot of multiples, they’re building on their positional versatility, which allows Pat [Graham, the defensive coordinator] to put together creative game plans and allow us to go ahead and use some disguise.
"And also, it ultimately comes down to the fundamentals, being able to play straight ahead and beat the man across from you. I think our guys have really improved fundamentally as well as schematically."
Graham gets a lot of credit for that, and rightfully so. But he said the secret to his success as a game-planner and play-caller is not his ability to preach his philosophy.
"I would say it starts with listening," he said. "Listening to your coaches, listening to your players, to be honest with you."
"He’s not afraid to ask my feedback," safety Logan Ryan said, adding that Graham does the same with Martinez, James Bradberry, Dalvin Tomlinson, Leonard Williams . . . pretty much everyone on the defense.
"He’s not afraid to have his players’ input on the game plan. I feel like it’s a cooperative effort, but at the same time, he’s up in the lab drawing up defenses giving us ways to win."
The Giants are contenders not because of their offense, which is averaging 19.3 points per game overall (the third worst in the NFL) and a modest 21.5 during this four-game winning streak. It’s because of a defense that for the past four games has held opponents to an average of 16.5 points per game.
"Our goal is to keep this thing close and win in critical situations," Judge said of the team’s recipe for recent success. And future success as well.
Which is why for the Giants to truly make any noise in these final four games and beyond, it will be incumbent on the defense to keep playing at this level, whether you want to define it as championship or not.
It’s a high bar. As Martinez jokingly suggested, the Giants may have messed up by playing so well against the Seahawks last week.
"You showed [what] you can do," he said, "so now we need to go and do it every week."
The last two times the Giants held at least four straight opponents to 20 points or fewer resulted in Super Bowl wins for the team (playoff games in bold).
TB 14, Dallas 17, GB 20, NE 14
Jets 14, Dallas 14, Atl. 2, GB 20, SF 17, NE 17
WFT 20, Phila. 17, Cin. 17, Sea. 12