Not only are the New York Giants one victory away from pretty much wrapping up the NFC East, but the rested and relatively healthy Giants are now riding a wave of momentum and confidence. For the second time this season, they completely dominated a defending NFC divisional champion in Week 12, crushing the Green Bay Packers 38-10.
With that game in the rear-view mirror and the G-men seemingly back on track as they prepare to battle the red-hot Redskins in Washington, here's a look at where Big Blue stands with five weeks left on the 2012 schedule.
What They Should Be Thinking
It's only one win, and the last time we hammered a good NFC opponent (San Francisco in Week 6), we followed that up with four consecutive underwhelming performances. There's a chance what happened in Week 12 was somewhat of an anomaly, especially with Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson and Bryan Bulaga all out for the Packers, who weren't as well-rested and were on the road.
Yes, there's a chance we've turned a corner on both sides of the ball, but one game is not a trend. And our next opponent, the Washington Redskins, have given us a ton of trouble lately. On the road, we could be in for another letdown game against Robert Griffin III and Co., whom are pretty much just as fresh with their bye coming in Week 10.
Ahmad Bradshaw and Rueben Randle appear to be stepping it up, Hakeem Nicks is getting better each week and Eli Manning had his best game in well over a month against the Packers. We're running well, we're passing well and the pass blocking was steady Sunday night, too.
Plus, the pass rush is back. More on that in a moment, but our three-headed defensive end monster was conjuring memories of the 2011 playoff run in the win over Green Bay. The secondary might be bad, but it's probably no worse than it was last year, and we still managed to get by. No reason we can't pull it off again in 2012. We might have targets on our backs, but nobody's coached as well as we are.
Breaking Down the Tape: The Pass Rush is Back
The Giants' top four defensive players against the Packers, according to Pro Football Focus: Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka.
It's got to be refreshing to see that, because JPP had been receiving so little support from Umenyiora and Tuck during the first 10 weeks of the season that I was beginning to wonder if this pass rush simply didn't have the bite to change games the way it did in 2011.
But it's important to remember that the Giants really didn't begin dominating on the defensive line until December and January last season, so there's a chance Tuck and Umenyiora are just blooming late again this year.
Those top four pass-rushers combined for 18 pressures Sunday night. During the first 10 weeks of the year, by comparison, they had averaged a combined 10.2 pressures per game. That's a 77 percent increase over their pre-bye week average.
Yes, the Packers offensive line is in bad shape with Bulaga down, but the Giants had faced poor lines in Dallas and Philadelphia this season, and they averaged only 10.7 pressures in those matchups. There was something different about them Sunday night. They finally looked the part.
The Packers spent much of the night trying to compensate for the depleted right side of their line, giving lots of help to T.J. Lang. As a result, Umenyiora could go to work one-on-one against Marshall Newhouse. Here's an example on one of the plays of the game. Osi would rock Newhouse here and wind up with a strip sack.
Later, on another four-man rush, the Giants had the Packers line in this spot, seven yards back of the line of scrimmage, only 2.3 seconds after the snap. That would result in another sack, this time for Kiwanuka.
And it went beyond the big four. The first sack of the game came on a four-man rush, with Chris Canty overwhelming two men to get around the edge and take down Aaron Rodgers from behind. You'll notice that three Giant pass-rushers are occupying six blockers. Perry Fewell will take those numbers any day.
The key was that they got all that pressure despite blitzing Rodgers only six times. That's why the pass defense was able to hold up. On their only sack off the blitz, the Packers were too preoccupied with the front four up the gut to notice the free path for Chase Blackburn.
The Giants' fifth sack, which also went to Kiwanuka, was more of a coverage sack, which is quite amazing when you consider that the New York secondary has been allergic to coverage for much of this season. The penetration was good, but there really wasn't anywhere for Rodgers to throw. That's a great sign if you're a Giants fan.
What I'm Thinking
Stock Rising (offense): Ahmad Bradshaw
After going three straight games with fewer than four yards per carry, Bradshaw has picked up 115 yards on his last 20 attempts. The problem is his durability, not his productivity. Hopefully, he can carry more of a workload with Andre Brown out.
Stock Rising (defense): Osi Umenyiora
Have I mentioned how well that line played against Green Bay? Umenyiora's been picking up steam for a while. Expect him to keep rolling in December.
Stock Dropping (offense): Kevin Boothe
Something's a little off with the veteran guard. He's given up eight pressures and two sacks in his last two games, according to PFF. That after giving up only 16 in the first nine.
Stock Dropping (defense): Corey Webster
I know he made up for a blown coverage with a pick, but he was still beaten four times on five targets and has now surrendered six touchdown passes this season.
That tough schedule doesn't appear to get any easier going forward (see the chart above), but three of their final five games are against teams with sub-.500 records. They'll almost certainly get through it, but a loss in Washington will make things extremely interesting over the final month of the season.
I truly believe this team has a serious chance to make it three Super Bowls in six seasons. They haven't been this healthy this late in a long time, and the NFC—and the entire league, for that matter—is wide-open.