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How did the Giants win?

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New York Giants v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

I’m assuming that everyone’s survivor pool ended this week, either because there was that one person who Vikings to beat the Packers, or literally nobody survived. But probably the biggest survivor killer of all was the New York Giants, who traveled to Denver, winless, against a top-tier defense, had no wide receivers, no Olivier Vernon, and stop be if you’ve heard this before, but no offensive line.

They then beat the Broncos 23-10 with the game in their hands the entire time. Or more specifically, in Evan Engram’s hands. And Janoris Jenkins’ hands. But certainly not in Trevor Siemian’s hands.

How did this happen and how afraid should the Seattle Seahawks be as they travel to the east side to take on the Giants on Sunday?

Evan’s Essence

“We can’t continue to treat him like a rookie,” said head coach Ben McAdoo of Engram after the win. Engram had five catches on seven targets for 82 yards and a touchdown. Compare that to all of his teammates combined, who had six catches for 46 yards, and to all New York receivers combined who had two catches for 22 yards. Without Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, or Sterling Shepard, the entire passing offense had to be funneled through a single entity and while Eli Manning was still bad (11-of-19, 128 yards, three sacks), Engram was not. He looks great.

6’3, 234 lbs, 33.5” arms, an unreal 4.42 40-yard dash, and a 36” vertical. Engram wasn’t just an athletic freak either, not some college basketball sixth man turned into a project, but highly productive at Ole Miss. He led the nation’s tight ends in YPC in 2014 with 17.4 on on 38 receptions, and then last year as a senior he had 65 catches for 926 yards and eight touchdowns.

The Seahawks actually have not struggled against tight ends this season. They rank fifth against the tight end by DVOA, actually. But have they faced any elite ones? Martellus Bennett, Vance McDonald, Delanie Walker, Jack Doyle, and Tyler Higbee/Gerald Everett has been the main slate. Higbee did have 98 yards. Could Engram handle the Seattle defense all on his own?

It’ll be interesting to see how Richard Sherman even stays awake for this game. He’ll be defending .... Roger Lewis? Tavarres King? Fans have never really seen a receivers unit quite as bad as this before, so it’s hard to know exactly what to expect, but defending Engram won’t be as easy as just placing K.J. Wright or Kam Chancellor on him. He’s a special talent, and the Seahawks at least know they don’t have to put their best (or even their average-st) on New York’s receivers.

The Darkwa Side

While many NFL players were college stars, I always find it interesting how many pros were not. Like, not every professional football player comes from the SEC. Which is still pretty weird to me because it means that thousands of guys have been overlooked coming out of high school and then went on to surpass their Rivals.com rivals. Darkwa qualifies there, definitely.

Playing at Tulane, Orleans Darkwa had 24 touchdowns over his freshman and sophomore seasons, but averaged just 3 YPC and missed some time as a junior, which could’ve spelled the end of his career. Instead he came back and had another pretty good (but not stupendous) year, then signed as an undrafted free agent with the Miami Dolphins. Darkwa played for a touch before getting released and picked up by the Giants, where he’s remained up to now.

He came into Sunday with 21 carries for 122 yards (5.8 YPC) then had 21 carries for 117 yards in the win over the Broncos, including runs of 14, 15, 19, and 47. He also had 13 carries that went for two yards or less.

You have to take both sides into consideration: Focus on the fact that Darkwa was not consistent or the fact that without his big runs, New York might not win the game. Seattle’s focus could be/should be/will be stopping the big plays. That was their issue against Carlos Hyde and DeMarco Murray. If they can take Darkwa out of the game, if they can take Engram out of the game (and what else besides those two do they have to focus on?), it’ll be hard for the Giants to score any offensive touchdowns.

Denver couldn’t do those things.

Jason came out on Sunday the 15th this year

Playing without Olivier Vernon, New York knew there’d be more pressure on Jason Pierre-Paul to create pressure. That was no problem against a Broncos team that spent considerable money on Ronald Leary and Menelik Watson, and drafted Garrett Bolles in the first round this year. (A dream scenario for any Seahawks fan.)

But Pierre-Paul had three sacks on Siemian, and also added four QB hurries. Overall, the Giants had a pretty low pressure rate (25.4%) but Pierre-Paul was on top of his game and it’ll be scary to see what he does against whatever Seattle throws out there this time. Same for defensive tackle Damon Harrison, who had a sack and two QB hits of his own.

Vernon’s status to return is up in the air right now. It sounds like you could lean towards him not playing but now that New York has a little hope in their hands, they might not be overly cautious with Vernon if he thinks he can go.

A visit from the Secondary fairy

The Giants were in competition as having the best secondary in the NFL a year ago after the addition of Janoris Jenkins, the maturation of Landon Collins into an NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and the early development of 10th overall pick Eli Apple. Not so much the case in 2017, then Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie went ahead and got himself suspended for four games ...

And New York was much better either in spite of that or because of it.

Siemian went 29-of-50 for 376 yards, 7.5 Y/A, one touchdown, two interceptions, and a rating of 71.8. In his previous six home games, Siemian had 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. The dominating performance by New York’s defense included three forced fumbles, four sacks, two picks, one by Collins, and a pick-six by Jenkins.

But Apple was also dominant, allowing 38 yards on 10 targets, and unspoken-of free safety Darian Thompson also had a strong performance on Sunday night. Thompson may not be a secret for much longer. He had his first interception last week against the LA Chargers, and a nice pass defensed:

Thompson had five tackles against the Broncos and could be carving a place for himself in an already-loaded (talent-wise, not performance-wise for much of this season) on the Giants D.

Russell Wilson basically doesn’t even play the same sport as Siemian, but New York also had an exceptional (for them) performance by their offensive line. Can the Seahawks really expect the same from theirs? Seattle has some top-tier offensive weapons too, but if the Giants’ defensive players have woken up — Jenkins, Apple, Collins, Thompson, Pierre-Paul, Harrison, Dalvin Tomlinson, a returnin’-Vernon, a returnin’-Jonathan Casillas — that’ll make for a long back-and-forth between the two units.

Even without Vernon and Casillas, New York has the talent on defense to hold the Seahawks to under 20 points. Easily. And that’ll be their biggest advantage, just like it was against Denver.

Why did the Giants win?

Because the Giants had a very talented defense to start the season and it finally showed up. Despite an 0-5 start, New York hadn’t allowed more than 27 points in any game, and even with another awful offensive performance, were able to win easily at Mile High stadium. The offense did get a nice boost from Engram and Darkwa, but it all came down to the jobs done by Pierre-Paul, Jenkins, Apple, and Harrison, for the most part.

All of those guys could still play well, if not better, against Seattle’s offense. Wilson has a huge advantage of not being Siemian, but another slow day on that side of the ball would not surprise anyone. The Seahawks defense is just going to have to be much, much better than how the Broncos defense played this week — which is odd/difficult because Denver had the number one defense in the NFL by DVOA headed into Week 6.

They can do that, but clearly this week’s game is going to be a lot more like how we viewed it before the season began, and a lot less like how we viewed it up until Sunday night.