Giants takeaways from Week 9’s 23-16 win over Raiders, including Xavier McKinney’s emergence and game-saving defense

Xavier McKinney sideline Raiders cropped 11/7/2021

If the Giants are going to salvage anything at all out of this lost season, one thing seems perfectly clear: The defense is going to have to do it for them.

For the second straight week, the Giants’ defense came to play against a dangerous offense, and this time they didn’t bother relying on their own offense to pull it out. They got two huge interceptions from safety Xavier McKinney and three huge turnovers overall, leading to a rare win in a close game — 23-16 over the Las Vegas Raiders at the Meadowlands.

McKinney was clearly the star. The former second-round pick, who missed practice time this week thanks to a false positive result on a COVID-19 test, got both his interceptions in the second half. The first was the biggest, early in the third quarter — a Pick 6. He read Raiders quarterback Derek Carr’s throw perfectly, made a great move to jump in front of receiver Hunter Renfrow, caught the ball and took it 41 yards down the sidelines for a touchdown to give the Giants a 17-13 lead.

But his second one was pretty big too. With the Giants nursing a four-point lead, the Raiders were setting up for what they hoped would be a go-ahead drive. On first-and-10 from their own 24, Carr was looking to go deep down the sidelines to Zay Jones. But McKinney read it perfectly again and took off from the middle of the field, getting to the sidelines to grab the underthrown pass.

That almost sealed the game for the Giants, but the Raiders would have one more shot to tie the game. In fact, they pushed all the way to the Giants’ 13 with less than a minute remaining. But the defense came through again, with a sack and forced fumble by linebacker Quincy Roche and a recovery by Leonard Williams that ended the game.

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The Giants did give up 403 total yards, but every time the Raiders got close to the end zone, the Giants’ defense tightened up. The game-ending play was the biggest example of that, but there were others. Like when the Raiders got into the red zone with about 10 minutes remaining as they were starting to pick apart the Giants with screens and other passes underneath. On third-and-6 from the New York 10, Carr found running back Josh Jacobs open for just such a play.

But safety Logan Ryan was there. He ran by as Jacobs cut back inside, but somehow grabbed Jacobs by the jersey, managed to put on the breaks and spin him down. That set up a fourth-and-3 from the 7 and the Raiders chose to kick a field goal — that Daniel Carlson missed.

The defense came up big like that all game long. They even did what they did against Kansas City on Monday night — limited the “game wreckers.” The Giants held Renfrow to just 49 yards on his seven catches and tight end Darren Waller to seven catches for 92 yards, though he was mostly a non-factor until the fourth quarter.

And really, it’s a good thing they did all that because the Giants’ offense continues to be an injury-plagued train wreck. They managed only 245 yards in the game and its only touchdown came on the game-opening drive.

The defense, though, is picking up the slack. Clearly, after a slow start, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s group has gotten its act together. Whether it’ll be enough to turn this 3-6 season into something remains to be seen. It’s probably doubtful if the offense continues to struggle.

But getting the defense going, finally, is at least a good start.

Here are some more takeaways from this rare Giants win…

Running back Devontae Booker had not been a particularly effective replacement for Saquon Barkley, but he’s begun to turn that around the last two weeks. Last Monday night in Kansas City, he had his best game as a Giant with 125 total yards. And he followed that up on Sunday with 99 yards on 21 carries and another three catches for 23 yards.

Jason Garrett’s game plan in this game clearly was small ball, probably because of the injuries that decimated his receiving corps and presumably limited how much he could use Kadarius Toney (knee, thumb) and Kenny Golladay (knee). Giants quarterback Daniel Jones was 15 of 20 for 110 yards and an interception, but he didn’t target a receiver on any of his first seven passes, until he hit a 14-yarder to Golladay with 8 ½ minutes to go in the first half. That was the only time he targeted a receiver in the first half, despite going 9-for-9. Toney didn’t catch a pass until there was 2:46 left in the third. And Darius Slayton wasn’t targeted until there was 8:49 to go in the game. In all, those three were targeted four times.

Jones didn’t run as much as he has been (4 rushes, 17 yards), but he ran for a big first down in the fourth quarter on a third-and-7 from the Giants’ 23. He pulled the ball down and took off up the middle, spun around one tackler and then dove — head first — for the first down. He took a big hit and it was awfully dangerous. But he did get eight yards and the first down.

The Giants did try to get Toney involved in non-traditional ways, despite his ankle and thumb injuries. They tried to run him out of the Wildcat in the first quarter, but Rams defensive end Carl Nassib blew that up for a two-yard loss. Later, they tried a WR-option when Jones threw across the field to him to the left (technically a lateral) and he pulled up to throw. But no one was open, he hesitated and was tackled for a six-yard loss.

Good thing the Giants didn’t trade TE Evan Engram, right? He got the Giants on the board at the end of their first drive with a terrific, leaping catch on the sideline over safety Jonathan Abram. He just took the ball away from his out-stretched hand, stayed in bounds, and turned it into a 30-yard touchdown. He finished with 3 catches for 38 yards.

The Giants’ offensive line had been OK lately despite all their injuries, but there was a lot of pressure on Jones against this Raiders front. Credit him for running out of trouble and throwing the ball away, which is why he was only sacked three times. And Matt Peart remains a liability at left tackle. A reminder of that came in the first quarter when he got beat for a strip sack by Yannick Ngakoue, who forced a Jones fumble that the Raiders recovered. That led to a Raiders field goal.

Rookie linebacker Azeez Ojulari continues to show impressive flashes. He made a real nice play in the second quarter to snuff out a screen pass to Jacobs, diving at his feet to hold him to just two yards. Ojulari didn’t have a sack in this game and only had two tackles, but he generated a little bit of pressure.

These Giants apparently just can’t help themselves when it comes to doing really dumb things. Today’s special play came from special teams ace Keion Crossen on a punt in the first quarter. For reasons known only to him, he laid out Raiders punter A.J. Cole on the return, about 20 yards away from the play, after the play ended, and after Cole had pulled up into a job. It was incredibly dirty and Crossen was lucky he didn’t get ejected. He did get a 15-yard penalty, though, and surely will draw a fine.

Crossen, whom the Giants acquired because of his special teams play, wasn’t done with bonehead special teams moves, either. In the second quarter, Riley Dixon boomed a punt that got a great roll inside the Raiders 20. Crossen ran it down and pounced on it at the 12, even though it was still rolling. Why not let it keep going to see if maybe it goes even further? It had plenty of momentum. Crossen got up and signaled that he thought it was Giants ball because the Raiders touched it. They didn’t, but if he thought that, why wouldn’t he pick it up and run it into the end zone? His head was not in this game.

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