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NY Post
New York Post
9 Sep 2023


NextImg:Giants thrive as underdogs after surprising 2022 season: ‘That’s the way we like it’

The Good Ship Daboll sailed straight and true all summer, with nary a ripple in the calm seas, and no unexpected choppiness to knock anything or anyone off course.

No hard knocks and no “Hard Knocks’’ for the Giants.

Not a decibel of Super Bowl chatter and no comparisons to the 1985 Bears on defense.

Daniel Jones got up on stage and sang at a Zach Bryan concert in Queens, but the Giants’ quarterback is strictly second-fiddle in a metropolis that now has Aaron Rodgers stomping around, with Godzilla-like impact, for the Jets, and by extension causing reverberations throughout the entire NFL.

The Giants will open their season Sunday night against the Cowboys at MetLife Stadium, a national showcase for two longtime NFC East rivals.

The next night, though, the Jets will get the solo exposure of “Monday Night Football’’ against the Bills in the building they share with their older and historically more successful stadium business partner.

If Under the Radar were a condition, the Giants would be diagnosed with having a strong dose of it.

“Honestly, I think that’s the way we like it over here,’’ veteran defensive lineman Leonard Williams told The Post. “I don’t think people on this team are expecting us to be in the spotlight all the time. We like to be considered underdogs and prove people wrong. I think that makes all the guys and the team play with a chip on their shoulder. I think that’s the way we like it.’’

Giants cornerback Adoree’ Jackson and defensive end Leonard Williams during practice on Friday.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Now hold on there. Did everyone forget the Giants, in Brian Daboll’s first season as head coach, defied all expectations to finish 9-7-1 and win a playoff game for the first time since the 2011 season?

Based on a player-by-player roster rundown, there is evidence aplenty that the 2023 Giants are more talented, certainly faster and more sound than the 2022 edition.

Why such second-class status in their own environs?

“If you’re comparing it to the Jets, they just got Aaron Rodgers, who has been one of the best quarterbacks in this league for a long time,’’ Williams said. “Then they also have ‘Hard Knocks’ going on over there, so they’re on TV and in the spotlight. I feel it’s easy for them to be talked about vs. us.

“I don’t think anyone here cares about that type of stuff or talks about it, really. We’re just focused on winning, and I think that’s going to take care of itself.’’

    Winning takes care of everything.

    The Giants and Jets get to duke it out during Week 8 in late October, and by then we all should have a strong handle on what each team is about.

    Of far more immediate concern is righting what has been wrong for so long.

    This will be the 12th time the Giants and Cowboys will open a season squaring off, and it has been a brutal opening-day assignment for the Giants.

    They are 1-10 all-time in season openers against the Cowboys and 1-11 in their past 12 games in this ridiculously one-sided series.

    “I understand that we weren’t able to beat Dallas and Philly last year, but that was last year,’’ Saquon Barkley said. “It’s a whole new year. We’ve got a great opportunity in front of us, and we’ve got to take advantage of it.’’

    The Giants, despite their surprising run last year, are second-class compared to the Jets and have taken on an under-the-radar vibe.
    The Giants, despite their surprising run last year, are second-class compared to the Jets and have taken on an under-the-radar vibe.
    Corey Sipkin for the NY POST

    If the Giants snap this nasty trend, they will be on the receiving end of more attention than they need or want.

    “I think we’re in a good spot. I think we improved a lot throughout camp and made a lot of progress to get to this point and I think we’re ready to go,’’ Jones said.

    “I mean, I’m 0-2 [against the Cowboys],’’ second-year outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux said. “I’m definitely 0-2, and I definitely don’t like losing, so this is gonna be a time to wipe that slate clean.’’

    MARQUEE MATCHUP

    Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence vs. Giants RT Evan Neal

    We all know what happened the first time these players went at each other. It was Lawrence in a knockout, punishing the rookie Neal during Week 3 last year for three sacks — half of Lawence’s total for the entire season.

    Neal said it was the worst game he has ever played.

    Evan Neal at Giants Training Camp.
    Evan Neal at Giants Training Camp.
    Robert Sabo for NY Post

    Neal worked diligently this offseason, changing up his pass protection set to more quickly engage with onrushing defenders.

    Lawrence, 31, knows all the tricks and the Giants cannot afford to swing much help Neal’s way, with sack-happy Micah Parsons going at left tackle Andrew Thomas on the other side of the line.

    Go with the Giants in this matchup at your own peril — especially if Darren Waller is unable to play or limited by a tight hamstring. Brian Daboll succeeded on so many levels in his head-coaching debut season, but finding a way to beat the Cowboys and the Eagles was not among the achievements. Have to figure the Giants are better equipped to deal with the Dallas ground game and more capable of putting heat on Dak Prescott. Now, can the offensive line keep Daniel Jones on his feet long enough to find all those upgraded weapons?

    GIANTS 27, COWBOYS 23

    4 DOWNS

    CALLING THE SHOTS: Mike McCarthy made his name in the NFL calling plays on offense as the Packers’ head coach, and it was a surprise when he ceded play-calling responsibility to Kellen Moore three years ago when he took over in Dallas.

    Now, however, Moore is the offensive coordinator for the Chargers, and McCarthy is the Cowboys’ play-caller.

    “I feel like I’m back in my element and doing what I feel like I do best,” he said. Expect McCarthy to incorporate some of his West Coast offense philosophies.

    Head Coach Mike McCarthy is seen on the sideline in a preseason game in a preseason game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

    Head Coach Mike McCarthy is seen on the sideline in a preseason game in a preseason game against the Las Vegas Raiders.
    Getty Images

    “It’s the first game and even the first part of the season, there are a lot of unknowns,’’ Brian Daboll said. “Got a lot of respect for coach McCarthy, I mean he was a coordinator back in 2000 [with the Saints]. So, he’s been doing this a long time. Has a good track record, been very successful. What he is choosing to call or how he’s calling it, we won’t know that until Sunday.’’

    TALE OF THE TAPE: Dak Prescott is 10-2 starting against the Giants and 10-0 in his past 10 starts. The Giants are 1-7 when facing the Cowboys since Daniel Jones arrived in 2019, and Jones is 1-5 in his six starts against the Cowboys.

    Prescott was intercepted a career-high 15 times in 2022, raising questions as to his status as a franchise quarterback after he signed a four-year, $160 million contract prior to the 2021 season.

    Jones last season had the lowest interception rate (1.1 percent) of any quarterback in the league.

    The Giants this offseason secured Jones with essentially the same deal — four years, $160 million — as Prescott received, and this is the first game for Jones since he got paid.

    With tight end Darren Waller (dealing with a hamstring issue), classy receiver Parris Campbell and rookie speedster Jalin Hyatt, Jones has more firepower than any time in his career.

    NEW ROLE: Adoree’ Jackson does not get his hands on the ball often enough — just three interceptions in 69 career games — to rank among the NFL’s top cornerbacks.

    He is, however, the best the Giants put out on the field, and his speed and savvy as a perimeter corner make him a challenge for opposing wide receivers.

    He selflessly and enthusiastically agreed to move inside to fill the slot corner role after rookie sixth-round pick Tre Hawkins stunned the coaching staff and won a starting job.

    Adoree' Jackson breaks up a pass to tight end Darren Waller at Giants Training Camp.
    Adoree’ Jackson breaks up a pass to tight end Darren Waller at Giants Training Camp.
    Robert Sabo for NY Post

    “I was ecstatic and excited about the opportunity that I was going to be able to have in that position and at the end of the day it’s all about ‘we over me,’ that we talked about,’’ Jackson said.

    In the slot, Jackson will see plenty of CeeDee Lamb, the Cowboys’ best receiver.

    HIT THE SACK: Tucked into the Cowboys’ 2-0 series sweep of the Giants in 2022 was this tidbit: Dallas sacked Jones eight times in the two games.

    The Giants did not get a single sack against the Dallas quarterbacks.

    That is … unacceptable. “I think that we played well, just couldn’t finish them, and this is a new year,’’ defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said.

    Edge rushers Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari were on the field together for just seven games last season.

    “It was rare,’’ Thibodeaux said. “I told him, ‘Listen, somebody asked me, are we gonna have a meeting at the quarterback?’ And I told him I’ll carpool if I have to.’’