By Jeff Moeller, The New York Extra/thenyextra.com
This can be the Giants’ –notably the defense — season signature game against Cleveland Sunday.
With their loss to Arizona, the Giants are faced with a must-win situation to keep their postseason hopes alive.
Win or lose, the Giants (5-8) have been and will continue to reap the benefits of a franchise-changing choice.
They certainly can send another Thank You card to the Browns.
It has been, however, a steady reminder this season on how the Giants made the right move to ship superstar Odell Beckham Jr. to the Browns, a move that didn’t sit well with the majority of Giants’ fans.
Ironically, it is a showdown with Cleveland (9-4), where Beckham’s presence has yet to register a seismic reaction rather than the ripple effects in the Giants’ favor with the rise of safety Jabrill Peppers and steady play of guard Kevin Zeitler.
They also benefited from the play of defensive tackle Dexter Lawrecen and linebacker Oshane Ximines, the two players the Giants’ drafted with picks in the Beckham deal.
Head coach Joe Judge and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham have molded and jelled a defense that matured and ripened sooner than anticipated in their first year.
It is a defense that primarily was the benefactor from the Beckham deal.
Right now, the score is Giants 4, Browns 1.
The Giants’ defense has given the team a sense of security to stay in the running for the NFC East crown with Washington (6-7) — a game ahead — , and Judge and Graham rightfully have the playoff scent.
The Giants’ unit will need to band together to stop surging quarterback Baker Mayfield and his Browns’ offense Sunday night at MetLife on the national broadcast.
Cleveland has scored 40 or more points in three of the last six contests.
They will be without cornerback James Bradberry, who arguably has been among their best players and rising rookie corner Darnay Holmes also likely will be out of the lineup. Bradberry is is COVId protocol, while Holmes had a bad knee.
Logan Ryan could slide over from safety to take Bradberry’s spot, and second-round pick Xaiver McKinney or Julian Love could take Ryan’s role.
Whatever the case, the Giants’ defense has its biggest challenge ahead. Not just with Cleveland, but also with Baltimore and Dallas ahead. Even if they win outright, the Giants need help to catch Washington and win the division.
Their overall transformation from last year’s stagnant unit to one of the league’s top ten all season — currently 10th — have been the main factor in the Giants’ resurgence this season.
Despite the issues, the secondary has raised its rating from 25th to 18th and has allowed a reasonable 18 touchdowns and an average of 241 yards per game with 15 interceptions.
Their rushing defense is seventh overall in the league and has allowed 11 touchdowns and 3.9 yards per carry.
This could be a hallmark game for defensive end/tackle Leonard Williams, who has 8.5 of the team’s 33 sacks, and is playing with the motor the Jets envisioned when they drafted him.
Williams and the rest of the line along with the linebacking corps led by tackling machine Blake Martinez will need to put the clamps on Mayfield , who had a 343-yard, two-touchdown performance in their wild 47-42 loss to Baltimore last week.
There’s also the ground game of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, who have developed into a top league duo, as they both have averaged more than four yards a carry.
Beckham won’t be in the lineup, but Jarvis Landry, Donovan People-Jones, and Rashard Higgins still are productive trio.
A loss will dampen the mercurial spirits in recent weeks of winning the East, but they have started a foundation for the future over the last 21 months.
And they can point to Beckham’s departure for it.