What should you be looking for over the Giants’ final eight games?
The New York Giants get back to work on Monday for their second half of the season, which begins with a Week 11 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. What are some of the story lines to follow during the second half of the season?
The Giants are going to be without several key players — offensive linemen Nick Gates and Shane Lemieux, linebacker Blake Martinez, safety Jabrill Peppers at the top of the list — for the remainder of the season.
They do, however, hope to get some injured stars back on the field.
Running back Saquon Barkley has missed four games with an ankle injury suffered early in a Week 5 game against the Dallas Cowboys. The injury was said to be a low ankle sprain, but Barkley has missed far more time than might be expected with that type of injury.
The Giants are facing a long-term decision on Barkley by the end of the 2022 season. A healthy, productive second half of the season for the 2018 second overall pick could help him begin building a case for a big second contract with the Giants.
Wide receiver Sterling Shepard leads the Giants with 32 receptions despite missing four games thus far with three separate injuries — two hamstring injuries and a quad injury.
Left tackle Andrew Thomas (ankle/foot) is eligible to come off injured reserve. Thomas was playing like one of the NFL’s better left tackles before going on IR. He is the Giants’ best offensive lineman, and his return would push either Matt Peart or Nate Solder to the bench.
Kenny Golladay returned in Week 9 after missing three games with a knee injury. The Giants need more production from Golladay, who has only 19 receptions and no touchdown in six games played.
The Giants are averaging 19.9 points per game, 24th in the league. Health has been a big part of the reason. It would be nice to see, for at least a few games, if the Giants be the offense they expected to be if they are reasonably healthy.
Bigger roles for young players?
There have to be bigger roles for several young players the rest of the season.
That starts with first-round pick Kadarius Toney. The electrifying and sometimes controversial wide receiver is second on the team with 28 catches. Sixteen of those catches, though, came in Weeks 4 and 5.
Toney’s game-by-game targets look like this in his eight games played:
2, 0, 2, 6, 10, 3,4, 1.
We have seen what Toney can do with the ball in his hands. The Giants need to get it to him more consistently the rest of the season.
Third- and fourth-round picks Aaron Robinson and Elerson Smith both lost the first half of the season to injuries. No matter who is sitting in the general manager’s chair or the head coach’s office the Giants have lots of critical offseason personnel decisions to make. They also face a salary-cap crunch, so figuring out which veterans to keep or shed will be tricky.
The play of Robinson, a cornerback, and Smith, an edge defender, could impact the futures of players like James Bradberry, Jabrill Peppers, Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines.
Quincy Roche. claimed off waivers from the Pittsburgh Steelers, is another young player who needs to be given regular playing time over the final eight games. Roche, taking advantage of an injury to Carter, has been more productive in his opportunities than Carter or Ximines. He should not be losing playing time to either of those players the rest of the season.
Another interesting player to watch could be right tackle Isaiah Wilson. A 2020 first-round pick by the Tennessee Titans, he flamed out quickly in Tennessee. He was unemployed and out of football shape when the Giants, desperate for offensive line talent, signed him earlier in the season.
Wilson is getting closer and closer to game condition. Solder is obviously not the long-term answer at right tackle, and it would be a surprise if he is a Giant beyond this season. Peart is a 2020 third-round pick, but for whatever reason has been unable to establish himself as worthy of consistent playing time in the eyes of this coaching staff. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Giants give Wilson an audition for a few games as the season winds down.
Will Jason Garrett make it to the finish line?
If the Giants really wanted to pin the blame for their struggling offense on offensive coordinator Jason Garrett they probably would have fired him during the bye week. Garrett remains the coordinator, and the offensive play-caller.
That, though, doesn’t mean Garrett will make it to the end of the season.
If the Giants continue to lose games, and continue to struggle offensively even if they get healthier, I can see Joe Judge sacrificing Garrett and turning to Freddie Kitchens to run the offense.
Honestly, if the Giants don’t improve on offense despite getting healthier there would be justification for that. Such a move, though, could also be considered self-preservation by Judge, whose seat could grow warmer if the Giants don’t win more games the rest of the way. He can always blame Garrett and make the case that he deserves a full chance with his guy — Kitchens — in charge of the offense.
A playoff run is unlikely. Seven teams makes the playoffs in each conference, and the Giants are 13th in the NFC. Victories over the weekend by the 4-6 Philadelphia Eagles and 3-6 Washington Football Team make the road even more difficult for the Giants, who have two games with the Eagles and one with Washington remaining.
Still, the Giants need to play .500 or better over the remaining eight games to show that perhaps — just perhaps — some progress is being made.