Giants’ Super Bowl Winners React to Rookie Dominating the Commanders

Kayvon Thibodeaux

Getty Two Super Bowl-winning Giants reacted to a rookie dominating the Commanders.

Michael Strahan and Leonard Marshall know all about what it takes to dominate along the defensive line for the New York Giants. They both wrecked the trenches for Super Bowl-winning teams, so when Strahan and Marshall are effusive in their praise for one rookie defender, it means the Giants have a star in the making.

That’s just what Kayvon Thibodeaux was against the Washington Commanders in Week 15. While quarterback Daniel Jones made clutch plays on offense, Thibodeaux’s active and destructive performance on the other side of the ball was just as big a factor in the Giants winning 20-12 at FedExField.

Thibodeaux’s stat line was simply awesome. The fifth player taken in the 2022 NFL draft was in on 12 total tackles, including three stops for loss, registered a sack, forced a fumble and recovered the ball in the end zone for the Giants’ first touchdown.

Marshall, who won Super Bowls with the 1986 and 1990 Giants, saluted the performance as a breakout moment for Thibodeaux:

You’re unable to view this Post because this account owner limits who can view their Posts. Learn more

The sentiment was echoed by Strahan, the franchise’s all-time sack leader. He took Tom Brady down twice when the 2007 Giants beat the 18-0 New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, and Strahan was fired up by Thibodeaux’s display:

Marshall and Strahan weren’t the only retired Super Bowl winners wowed by what Thibodeaux produced under the spotlight of Sunday Night Football.

Thibodeaux Delivered on Prime Time Boast

It’s fair to say Thibodeaux isn’t shy about talking up his considerable talents. During the week before the game, he was asked about getting ready to play prime-time football, to which Thibodeaux casually responded, “Prime time likes me,” per Giants Videos:

It was the kind of boast that could put a player on the wrong side of karma, but Thibodeaux backed up his words. The former Oregon standout delivered a performance worthy of national exposure.

His banner night began with snuffing out two runs by Commanders’ wide receiver Curtis Samuel. The latter is a versatile and electric playmaker Washington loves to use in both phases of the offense, but Thibodeaux was having none of it.

Those tackles for loss set the tone for a night when Thibodeaux spent most of his time behind the Commanders’ offensive line. They were also the kind of negative plays the Giants have been waiting for the first-rounder to make, according to Next Gen Stats:

Thibodeaux has made the Giants exercise patience while he’s developed into a force against the run. Yet, the 21-year-old was drafted primarily for his ability to put heat on quarterbacks.

He had only two sacks entering Week 15, but Thibodeaux had recorded 15 pressures, nine knockdowns and four hurries, per Pro Football Reference. Those numbers hinted a signature splash play was due from the pass-rusher.

The moment came less than two minutes into the second quarter, when the Giants’ top rookie engulfed Commanders’ QB Taylor Heinicke and took the ball with him for good measure:

The strip-sack was a pivotal swing in momentum at a time when the Commanders were steadily establishing control on home turf. Thibodeaux’s monster play gave the Giants an initiative they barely relinquished the rest of the night.

It also prompted an exasperated response from Joe Theismann, who quarterbacked Washington to a Super Bowl win during the 1982 season. He’d seen enough to believe the Commanders had no answer for Thibodeaux:

Theismann was right, largely because of how the Giants used Thibodeaux. Defensive coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale made a subtle adjustment from Week 14’s 48-22 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles, a tactical tweak that paid off big time.

New Plan Worked Wonders for Thibodeaux

Martindale’s switch involved not blitzing Thibodeaux as often as he had against the Eagles. No. 5 blitzed eight times against Philly, but rushed exclusively from the line vs. the Commanders.

Using Thibodeaux as a more traditional defensive end put him in one-on-one matchups with Washington tackles Charles Leno Jr. and Cornelius Lucas. Thibodeaux routinely got the better of those encounters, like in this example against Leno:

Successful rushes like this one disrupted the pocket all night and rarely allowed Heinicke to settle. The scrappy signal-caller missed on 12 of his 29 throws and took three sacks, with Thibodeaux’s consistent pressure helping others, such as fellow edge-rusher Azeez Ojulari and nose tackle Dexter Lawrence, get home.

Thibodeaux made a slow start to life in the pros, but he’s been threatening this level of performance in recent weeks. He was credited with a breakout game in a losing cause against the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day.

Now Thibodeaux is a decisive factor in helping the Giants win during the run-in.