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The formula has been identified, and my, oh my, how razor-thin it appears to be.
When a team scores 23, 22, 27 and 17 points in a four-game stretch, the results often are not easy on the eyes. Averaging barely more than 20 points is usually not enough for prolonged success. It is not a recipe to cook up much that is palatable in the standings.
In that same span, the Giants allowed 20, 21, 17 and 12 points. Four games, 89 points scored, 70 points given up. The results — four consecutive victories — are dreamy for the Giants. The lack of any significant margin for error — every game is close, low scoring and down-to-the-wire — seems nightmarish for a first-year head coach, as every move he takes, every decision he makes can tilt the arrow toward a win or a loss.
“Nope,’’ Joe Judge said. “Nope. Whatever it is. Our goal is to keep this thing close and win in critical situations. I see an improvement from our team throughout the season on that. We’ll do whatever it takes to win, however we have to play. I don’t care if we have to hand the ball off 100 times, throw it 100 times, we have to blitz every player or play nothing but 10 guys back in coverage. Whatever it’s going to take each game, we’ll do.’’
Life on the edge leaves the Giants (5-7) holding a tiebreaker lead on Washington for first place in the NFC East. Just like the games they play, the Giants have no wiggle room in their division as they head for the home stretch, which is why Sunday’s game with the sagging, but dangerous Cardinals (6-6) at MetLife Stadium is the start of a four-game fight to the finish.
After proving to Judge he could protect himself, barring any setback Daniel Jones will return from a strained right hamstring, which checked out well on Saturday. They are so confident, the team did not activate a third QB, going with just Jones and backup Colt McCoy. Jones missed last week’s 17-12 upset of Seattle — behind McCoy, a pounding running game and more of the now-routine superb defensive machinations of coordinator Patrick Graham.
In their 1-7 start, the Giants allowed 24.9 points in game. In their four-game winning streak, the points allowed have dwindled to 16.5 per game.
Graham has at his disposal a few prescient veterans capable of high-level espionage and adjustments. Blake Martinez — questionable with lower back issue but the team is optimistic he will play — at inside linebacker and Logan Ryan at free safety are extensions of their coordinator, and up front Dalvin Tomlinson is another player capable of reading and reacting to situations as they happen on the field.
“They do a great job of disguising their coverages snap in and snap out and have a great scheme,’’ Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “When you watch the tape, especially the last four weeks when you’re doing your breakdown, there hasn’t been much success of people doing anything.’’
Last week, safety Jabrill Peppers dropped Russell Wilson for an 8-yard sack on the first play of the second quarter and it was a blend of smarts and skill that got it done. Ryan noticed Peppers often lined up as if he were about to come on a blitz, but then backed off, fearing the offense had detected he was about to apply pressure.
“I told him, ‘You do so much fake blitzing and bluffing, just line up in the blitz. … They’re not going to believe if you just line up that you’re actually coming, because who would do that?’ ’’ Ryan said. “And he lined up and he went and he destroyed everybody in the backfield and it worked out. And he was like, ‘Man, you’re a genius.’ Sometimes, if you’re going to play poker and bluff, sometimes you’ve got to actually have the cards, sometimes you’ve got to show what you have.’’
The Giants never show all they have. Their defense is playing well enough to get them into the playoffs. Until the offense picks up the pace, though, every game will be a struggle.