WINNING MAKES YOU HAPPY
Eli Manning doesn’t need to look at the records or the standings to know that the Giants are playing winning football. He just needs to look at the locker room.
The Giants have been a fun bunch during their five-game winning streak, as well they should be. Plenty of singing, dancing and joshing going on. Manning isn’t always in the middle of the frivolity — in fact, he often is not — but he’d nonetheless like to see it and the winning continue.
“We just have to make sure we’re putting ourselves in a position where you can keep a locker room loose,” the quarterback said this past week. “It can be that way if you know guys are preparing and doing everything possible to get ready for the game. The locker room should be fun. You win football games, five in a row, it should be fun. You’re enjoying that time and in contention to win a division. All of those things. It’s an exciting time. There should be a lot of good energy around the locker room.”
The only way to keep that going, though, is to beat the Browns today. The 0-11 Browns. The Giants expect to do so. That would set up a five-game stretch that will define whether they are true contenders or merely midseason partiers.
“We are just trying to keep the ball rolling, man,” Jason Pierre-Paul said. “The guys have to stay humble, forget what people are saying and just play ball. Do it for your family and when I say family, we talk about the Giants’ organization and the guys that are on the team and the fans too . . . I am pretty sure that each guy understands that and we have to do whatever it takes to win this game.”
The Giants haven’t been in this position for a while, but the last few times they were, it worked out very well for them. In fact, you might say Super. Manning is one of the few who have been around since those times and is able to compare 2016 to 2007 and 2011.
“We’re winning close games,” he said. “That’s what you have to do in this league. Those teams, when the close games were on the line, we tend to play our best football. That’s a good thing. That’s a great quality to have. You have a confidence that when you get in the fourth quarter and in these close games, we’re going to be able to pull it out.”
Sounds like fun.
THE ODELL FACTOR
Odell Beckham Jr. may not be getting the ball as often as he or others would like, but even when he isn’t, he’s making an impact.
Offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan pointed to Sterling Shepard’s touchdown catch last week against the Bears as a perfect example of that dynamic.
“We put Odell in a specific spot, and if you go back and look at that clip, the safety who was aligned to his side, it was a two-high configuration, his eyes are right on Odell,” Sullivan said. “Had he not done that, then it’s one-on-one and he’s got a touchdown in the end zone, and we can all see [Beckham] enjoy the celebration. But because of his commitment to him and the corner’s commitment to him, that opens up the middle of the field and that created a touchdown for Sterling.
“There are certain byproducts, if you will, based upon his alignment. While he may be not getting the ball, it certainly creates those opportunities.”
Sullivan said the Giants look at the way opponents who have faced teams such as the Steelers, Cowboys and Falcons have played Antonio Bryant, Dez Bryant or Julio Jones to get an idea of how they might attack Beckham
“Once you get into Week 9, 10, 11, you get a sense of how teams are going to play premier receivers,” he said. “We can try to project as best we can how they will play us because that’s obviously how they’re going want to try and take away Odell.”
That said, there still is nothing like getting the ball into Beckham’s hands. That’s why he’s been targeted 98 times this season, seventh most in the NFL.
“It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the more we give him the ball, the higher our chances are of winning,” Sullivan said. “We definitely would like to get the ball in his hands as much as possible.”
HUE GOTTA BELIEVE
Hue Jackson was scheduled to interview for the Giants’ head-coach opening in January, but he never got on the flight. He instead accepted the Browns’ coaching job, and shortly afterward, the Giants hired Ben McAdoo.
The result for Jackson has been an 0-11 start to the season, but he doesn’t seem to regret his decision.
“I feel very comfortable about my time here and I think I’m in the right place,” Jackson said this past week. “Regardless of what the record says, I really feel comfortable where I am . . . I’m still very excited about the opportunity here and I think we’re going to get it to where it needs to be.”
That might take some time. Although Jackson laughed at the idea that coaching the Browns is a bigger challenge than he thought it would be, he did say it is different from his expectations.
“I’m going to take this year and truly understand what it is and deal with it as we have and our team has done a great job of dealing with it,” he said. “This is a road we’re never going to travel down again. We hope to be out of this situation as we move forward and get this organization and this team and our city back to where it rightfully belongs, among the elite teams in the league.”
TRAP GAME? WHAT IS IT?
Don’t tell Landon Collins this could be a trap game.
Or go ahead and tell him. He insists he doesn’t even know what that means.
“A lot of the younger guys, some of us still don’t understand what a trap game is. I still don’t understand what it is,” the Giants safety said this past week. “I look at it like we’re playing our next opponent and they’re going to play us as hard as they played any other team and try to get a W.”
To help Collins define the concept of a trap game, we brought up the case of his alma mater Alabama playing against Chattanooga.
“That’s not a trap game,” Collins insisted, “because we’re gonna beat them regardless. It’s Chattanooga.”
And there you have it.
LOSING CAN BE A GRIND
Jonathan Casillas won a Super Bowl as a Saints rookie, won another with the Patriots and seems to be on his way back to the playoffs with the Giants this year. It’s been, by all accounts, a successful career for the undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin. But ask him about his time with the Buccaneers and his countenance drops. He still carries the scars.
“My toughest years playing ball were in Tampa because we kept losing,” he said this past week of his short stint there, during which the Bucs won three of the 17 games in which Casillas played. “It’s tough on you.”
So he can only imagine what it’s like for his fellow Wisconsin product, Joe Thomas, who has spent his entire career with the Browns.
“That’s one of the toughest things I could imagine doing,” Casillas said. “For him to play at the level he’s playing at for the amount of wins they get every year, that speaks highly about him and his character.”
Thomas is the Ernie Banks of modern-day football. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first nine NFL seasons and is seen as the gold standard at his position, but he has never been to the playoffs. He’s been on only one winning team, when the Browns went 10-6 in his rookie year. Yet he keeps grinding.
Casillas isn’t the only one who feels for Thomas in that regard. First-year Browns coach Hue Jackson said he, too, shares that admiration and empathy.
“That’s why you do this,” he said. “You do this to win.”
WHO NEEDS BLOWOUTS?
Tight games seem to be a Giants thing. The Giants have won five straight games by seven or fewer points this season, which is one shy of the NFL record. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only two teams in league history have won six straight by seven or fewer points: The 1986 Giants and the 1994 Giants.