Giants’ Key Rookie Finally Has ‘Breakout’ Game in Losing Effort

There isn’t much for the New York Giants to celebrate after losing 28-20 to the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. A second-straight defeat has left Big Blue at 7-4, in danger of wasting a 6-1 start and missing out on the playoffs.

Just like in Week 11’s 31-18 setback against the Detroit Lions, the Giants were unable to establish the run on offense, while the defense couldn’t get off the field on third downs. Quarterback Daniel Jones also missed simple throws in key moments.

There are plenty of reasons to be negative, but how about some positives? The Giants did at least get a long-awaited “breakout” performance from a key member of their 2022 NFL draft class.

Key Rookie Flashes Potential to Dominate

Kayvon Thibodeaux had struggled to justify his first-round status through seven games, but he finally looked like a top-five pick against the Cowboys. The former Oregon standout “finished with five quarterback hits,” according to Dan Duggan of The Athletic, who noted Thibodeaux “had just three quarterback hits in eight games entering Thursday.”

Another important number was how often Thibodeaux got onto the field, per Paul Schwartz of the New York Post: “He buzzed around Dak Prescott for a season-high five quarterback hits, playing 73 percent of the snaps on defense (he came off the field briefly when he was cramping up). Sure, he missed what should have been a sack when he failed to bring Prescott to the turf, but this sort of activity bodes well for the stretch run for the No. 5 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.”

Thibodeaux was indeed a terror off the edges at AT&T Stadium. Many of his best plays, highlighted by Nick Falato of SB Nation’s Big Blue View, came against Cowboys’ first-year left tackle Tyler Smith:

Many of the 55 snaps Thibodeaux played were pass-rush snaps. The edge-rusher made the most of those opportunities to get after Cowboys’ QB Dak Prescott.

Thibodeaux’s harassment of Prescott was put into context by The Athletic’s senior editor Jim Ayello:

Ranking among the league’s most prodigious QB hunters is what the Giants expect from Thibodeaux given his draft status. His progress may be gathering pace, but Thibodeaux still needs to add more impact plays to his many pressures.

Learning to Finish Next Step in Rookie’s Development

Getting pressure hasn’t been a problem for Thibodeaux. He’d been one of the most prolific in the game in this area before adding nine more pressures against the Cowboys.

Thibodeaux’s numbers have hinted at his potential to dominate, according to NFL Rookie Watch:

The problem is that while pressure can impact games, nothing wrecks an offense and fires up defensive players as much as a few splash plays. That’s what top-five draft picks have to deliver.

Unfortunately, Thibodeaux has been short of those kinds of plays. Just one sack, three pass breakups and a single fumble recovery. Sacks are the ultimate currency dynamic edge-rushers trade in, so Thibodeaux must start getting to quarterbacks while they’re still holding onto the ball with greater frequency.

There are mitigating factors for why he hasn’t. Factors like offensive linemen taking a particularly handsy approach to keeping Thibodeaux under wraps.

You could probably make several sets of highlights of Thibodeaux being held this season and not getting the call. It’s become a weekly occurrence, according to Bleacher Report’s Doug Rush:

A few more flags would be a welcome sight, but any effective pass-rusher has to expect this kind of attention in the pros. The best ones still find ways to win and finish their pass-rush snaps with sacks.

Finishing consistently is what’s missing from Thibodeaux’s nascent game. The cost of this failing showed up painfully when he let Prescott escape his grasp and scramble for enough yards to give the Cowboys a third-and-short Ezekiel Elliott converted with a 16-yard gain.

This was the critical sequence en route to the Cowboys’ go-ahead touchdown to cap the opening drive of the third quarter. That’s the cost of failing to finish pressures with sacks.

The Giants have recorded precious few of those this season, just 20. Coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale’s defense failed to register a sack against the Lions and Cowboys.

Thibodeaux’s potential to develop into a dominant pass-rusher is obvious, but the suddenly free-falling Giants need him to make the grade sooner rather than later.