College Football

Is Giants QB Tommy DeVito a flash in the pan, the next Brock Purdy or something in between?

Here are 10 final thoughts on the Giants’ 24-22 win over the Packers while wondering how Tommy DeVito’s family is going to get their tailgate to New Orleans for Sunday’s game against the Saints:

DeVito’s upside

The DeVito story has been amazing for social media memes and for adding fun to a season that had been dismal before the undrafted rookie took over at quarterback. But it’s probably time that the football piece of the story takes some focus away from the pinched-fingers celebration and the cheek-kissing in the stands. Because DeVito has now put together three straight impressive starts.

DeVito has five touchdowns and no interceptions while completing 72.2 percent of his passes during the Giants’ three-game winning streak. His 119.8 passer rating since Week 11 is second only to San Francisco’s Brock Purdy, another diamond in the rough.

It’s premature to project DeVito as the next Purdy, who was the last pick in the 2022 draft and is currently an MVP contender for the best team in the NFL. And it’s far too early to compare DeVito to the ultimate quarterback underdog, Tom Brady, who transformed from a sixth-round pick to the greatest player in NFL history.

But Giants coach Brian Daboll was an assistant on the Patriots when Brady broke in, so he was asked about those early days on Tuesday. Daboll interrupted the question to point out, “We’re four games in.”

There’s a long way to go to determine if DeVito is a flash in the pan or a true hidden gem. But what’s not debatable at this point is the ability of Daboll and his staff to get the most out of quarterbacks.

Daboll, offensive coordinator Mike Kafka and quarterbacks coach Shea Tierney have tailored the offense to accentuate DeVito’s strengths and mask his weaknesses. If it looks familiar, it’s because this staff did the same thing a year ago with Daniel Jones.

The offensive game plan on Monday night looked eerily similar to the one Jones engineered in a 27-22 win over the same Packers team last season. The Giants reintroduced the wildcat formation on Monday, which they utilized successfully in last season’s matchup. And they broke out a trick play — a 25-yard flea flicker to Wan’Dale Robinson on Monday vs. a tight end option for a Daniel Bellinger touchdown run last season.

Jones completed 21-of-27 passes for 217 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, while adding 10 carries for 37 yards, in the win over Green Bay last season. DeVito completed 17-of-21 passes for 158 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, with 10 carries for 71 yards, on Monday.

DeVito deserves credit for the big plays he’s made. But that he’s operating so cleanly — no interceptions in his last three starts — is a testament to the coaching staff. It’s clear these coaches can raise the baseline play of a quarterback to a functional level.

The question is what these coaches can do with more talent. Daboll’s track record with Bills quarterback Josh Allen is encouraging on that front, while bringing out the best in Jones and DeVito adds to the allure of what they could do with a top prospect.

On the run

A key to Jones’ progress last season was utilizing his legs to escape pressure. He got in trouble earlier in his career by hanging in the pocket too long, which led to sacks and turnovers. Daboll and Kafka designed plays to get Jones out of the pocket and clearly instructed him to scramble at the first sign of pressure. He had 65 scrambles last season compared to 72 in his first three seasons combined.

The same message was clearly conveyed to DeVito, who had been sacked an outrageous 20 times in his first three starts. DeVito was pressured on 48.1 percent of his 27 dropbacks on Monday, so it’s not as if the offensive line was a brick wall. For perspective, Jones was pressured on 45.5 percent of his dropbacks this season.

But DeVito wasn’t sacked because he was much quicker to flee the pocket than he was in his first three starts. He scrambled six times for 34 yards on Monday.

The coaches also made an adjustment at halftime to use DeVito on designed runs. He had two carries for 39 yards in the third quarter on run calls.

The first was a 26-yard gain on a designed keeper with a lead blocker clearing a huge lane. DeVito made a slick cut in the open field and would have scored if he hadn’t collided with wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson as he approached the goal line.

On the Giants’ next drive, DeVito kept the ball on a play that had three options: a handoff to running back Saquon Barkley, a throw to Bellinger in the flat or keep the ball. DeVito made the right read, running through a big alley for a 13-yard gain.

Both of DeVito’s long runs were mainstays in the playbook last season. Expect to see DeVito’s legs featured as the Giants try to duplicate their 2022 offensive approach moving forward.

Scramble mode

Daboll said an emphasis was placed on scramble drills during practice last week. The work clearly paid off.

DeVito threw a perfect strike while rolling to his right for an 8-yard touchdown to wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins in the back corner of the end zone in the third quarter. DeVito couldn’t have placed the ball any better, as there was only a small window opened by Hodgins pivoting and running parallel with the quarterback along the back of the end zone.

Robinson made a tremendous snag on a 13-yard pass from DeVito along the sideline in the second quarter on another play when the quarterback escaped the pocket to his right. DeVito has proven to be effective throwing on the run, and his receivers helped him Monday by getting open and making catches when plays broke down.

Late-game blunders

For all of Barkley’s talent and competitiveness, he’s had some critical late-game blunders. The latest was his bizarre stumbling fumble after breaking a 34-yard run that should have sealed the win on Monday. The Packers recovered the ball, returned it 50 yards against a stunned Giants offense and then scored a go-ahead touchdown with 1:33 remaining.

It was only the third lost fumble of Barkley’s six-year career. His second lost fumble came in a similar situation in Week 7 this season. With the Giants leading by a touchdown and driving deep into Washington territory midway through the fourth quarter, Barkley was stripped. The Commanders then drove the length of the field, only to get stopped on New York’s 7-yard line as the Giants escaped with a 14-7 win.

Even when Barkley has held onto the ball, he’s had some head-scratching plays late in games. He appeared to give himself up on a run late in the Giants’ Week 8 matchup with the Jets. Leading by three points with 1:26 remaining, a first down would have sealed the victory. But Barkley dove to the turf untouched four yards short of the marker rather than trying to get a first down. Barkley failed to pick up the first down on the next two plays, Graham Gano missed a 35-yard field goal, and the Jets hit a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation and went on to win 13-10 in overtime.

Last season, Barkley nearly cost the Giants a game against the Jaguars by running out of bounds while milking a lead in the final minute. The Jaguars had no timeouts, so Barkley gave them a chance to mount a game-winning drive by stopping the clock with 1:04 remaining. The Jaguars made it to New York’s 1-yard line before getting stopped, as the Giants held on for a 23-17 win.

Change of heart

Daboll sent the punt team onto the field after wide receiver Jalin Hyatt was stopped a yard short of a first down on a third-down catch in the second quarter. Boos rained down from the crowd, and Daboll had a change of heart. He called a timeout and then sent the offense back onto the field.

Daboll said he wasn’t swayed by the crowd. Instead, Barkley channeled Jimmy Chitwood on the sideline.

“He said, ‘We’ll get it. Put it in my hands,’” Daboll said. “I said, ‘OK, let’s go.’”

There was no Hollywood ending, as Barkley was stuffed for no gain on a stretch run out of a full-house backfield.

Tight end shuffle

The Giants continue to roll with just two tight ends on the game-day roster, although that could change this week with Darren Waller hopeful he’ll be ready to return from the hamstring injury that has sidelined him for the past five games.

With the shortage of tight ends, the Giants used reserve guard Mark Glowinski as an extra blocker on nine plays. Glowinski served as a wrecking ball on Barkley’s 5-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. The 6-foot-4, 310-pound Glowinski came in motion at the snap and led the way around the left end, contributing to a massive pileup of bodies from both teams that cleared an easy path for Barkley to cruise into the end zone.

The Giants ran the ball on seven of Glowinski’s nine snaps, and four of those plays were stopped for no gain or negative yardage. But he was also on the field for both of Barkley’s touchdown runs and the flea flicker to Robinson in the third quarter.

Ojulari impact

It’s been a frustrating season for third-year outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari, who has missed six games due to injury and has been ineffective when on the field. Ojulari provided a reminder of his potential on Monday night.

Matching a season-high by playing 49 snaps, Ojulari registered his first sack of the season, which he split with defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, on a third down in the red zone in the fourth quarter. The 10-yard loss led to a missed 45-yard field goal as the Giants maintained a 21-13 lead.

Ojulari showed a burst on the sack that had been missing this season. That wasn’t his only impact play, as he tied Lawrence with a team-high six pressures and tallied a crucial tackle for a 5-yard loss on a push pass to wide receiver Jayden Reed on second-and-5 from the Giants’ 25-yard line in the fourth quarter. The Packers then settled for a field goal to cut New York’s lead to 21-16.

It’s easy to give up on disappointing players, but Ojulari is talented and under contract through 2024 at a cheap $2.2 million cap hit. So the Giants should keep him in the hopes he stays healthy and realizes his full potential, while taking greater steps to bolster their contingency plans if he can’t shake the injury bug.

Sharing the load

Lawrence made a major impact despite being on a pitch count in his return from a hamstring injury. Lawrence, who entered the game playing more than 70 percent of the defensive snaps, was limited to 42.6 percent of the snaps on Monday.

Lawrence was used mostly as a pass-rusher, recording six pressures and a half sack on just 20 pass-rush snaps. Veterans A’Shawn Robinson and Rakeem Nunez-Roches carried more of the load with Lawrence limited. Robinson had eight tackles, two pressures, one tackle for a loss and one pass batted down as he continues his strong play after a slow start to the season.

Not-so-special teams

The Giants special teams continue to be involved in too many negative plays. A short punt deflected off of Giants safety Bobby McCain and was recovered by the Packers at New York’s 14-yard line to set up a field goal midway through the third quarter.

The Giants could have had the ball at their own 40-yard line with 13 seconds left in the first half, but tight end Lawrence Cager was hit by a wayward kickoff before it went out of bounds for a penalty. All Cager had to do was step out of bounds and touch the ball and the Giants would have been rewarded with field position that could have made a field goal possible before halftime. But Cager’s lack of awareness resulted in the ball being ruled out of bounds at the Giants’ 11-yard line. They took a knee before heading to the locker room.

It wasn’t all bad for the special teams, as gunner Darnay Holmes forced a fumble that was recovered by Benton Whitley early in the third quarter. The Giants took over at Green Bay’s 31-yard line and scored a touchdown three plays later to take a 14-10 lead.

The night ended on a high note when kicker Randy Bullock, who had missed a 48-yard field goal attempt earlier, drilled the 37-yard game-winner as time expired.

Slim chance

The main reason the Giants’ playoff odds remain infinitesimal despite only being a game out of the NFC’s seventh seed is that they’ll be underdogs in their final four games. They opened as six-point underdogs for their game at the 6-7 Saints on Sunday. A pair of matchups with the 10-3 Eagles and a game against a 6-7 Rams team that is surging makes the Giants long shots to stack the wins necessary to secure an improbable playoff berth.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

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The Giants would need to leapfrog five teams with six wins over the final four weeks to sneak into the final playoff spot. It will be a major challenge to make up that ground while tangling twice with the Eagles while other teams in the mix get matchups with doormats like the Cardinals and Panthers instead.

On the flip side, the Giants are currently projected to have the eighth pick in the draft. They are one of six teams with a 5-8 record currently occupying slots 5-10 in the draft order. So either way, there’s a lot on the line in the final four weeks.

(Photo: Michael Owens / Getty Images)


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