Daniel Jones/Leonard Williams/Kenny Golladay/Joe Judge Treated Image
It’s probably only a dream that the Giants can somehow morph into an actual playoff contender. But it’s a good one for a franchise starved for any kind of success. It felt incredible to them last season when they bounced back from a 1-7 start and battled to the final day of the season.
It was almost enough to make everyone forget that their final record was 6-10.
They could be on a similar track this season as they sit at their bye week with a 3-6 record and eight games to go. They are staring at a mostly soft schedule, knowing they’re playing better football. Their confidence is increasing. They feel hope.
But here’s the bottom line: They most likely need to get to nine wins, at least, which means a 6-2 finish to their season. And considering they return from the bye week on a primetime game against the defending Super Bowl champions in Tampa Bay, they’ll probably need to go 6-1 after that.
Can they do it? It sure is possible against a soft, season-ending schedule that includes the Bears (3-5), Dolphins (2-7), Washington (2-6) and the Eagles (3-6) twice. It still won’t be easy. But here’s what they need to happen, quickly, if they really want to make any kind of run:
Their health needs to improve
This is really the most important factor, because right now their offense is absolutely nowhere. There is blame that belongs on the shoulders of offensive coordinator Jason Garrett and quarterback Daniel Jones, but don’t overlook how depleted this unit is. The Top 5 receivers and No. 1 running back have all missed significant time, and three-fifths of the starting offensive line they expected to have is currently out.
After the bye, within a game or two, they could see the return of Saquon Barkley and Sterling Shepard, and possibly left tackle Andrew Thomas. By then Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney and John Ross could all be nearing full strength, which they clearly weren’t in the Giants’ 23-16 win over the Raiders on Sunday.
Who knows if this offense could really be any good? But with the way Jones has played this season, it really would be nice to see how he’d fare with all his weapons in place. If that doesn’t happen, there will be no late-season run.
They need to find their pass rush
Right now, the Giants are tied for 12th in the NFL with 19 sacks, but that is a number massively skewed by their six sacks against the Carolina Panthers’ banged-up offensive line. Their 13 sacks in the other eight games are more representative of an anemic pass rush that ranks near the bottom of the NFL in pressures (65) and pressure rate (17.5 percent).
The Giants get occasionally decent pressure from Leonard Williams and rookie linebacker Azeez Ojulari (5 ½ sacks each) but it’s not consistent and they get no help. Opposing quarterbacks have way too much time in the pocket to pick the secondary apart. That has to change because they face beatable quarterbacks down the stretch in Taylor Heinicke (Washington), Justin Fields (Chicago), Tua Tagovailoa (Miami) and Jalen Hurts (Philadelphia). They can’t give them time to work.
Playing smarter is a must
You know what the biggest difference was in their win over the Raiders and three previous close losses? Against the Raiders, they had only four penalties for 35 yards (including one stupid personal foul on special teams from Keion Crossen). In close losses to the Chiefs, Falcons and Washington – all decided on last-minute field goals – they had a combined 29 penalties for 222 yards.
Throw in an array of wrong pass routes, poor quarterback decisions and a mismanaged clock, and it’s a terrible combination. That didn’t happen against the Raiders, for the most part. They played a smart, clean game. Joe Judge is supposed to be all about discipline. His teams are supposed to be smart and detail-oriented. If they’re not, they won’t win the big games they need. They’ll just continue to throw them away.
Whether it’s Saquon Barkley or someone else, they have to establish the run
They have been a terrible run team all season long, especially if you take out Jones who was their leading rusher until Sunday. Jones’ ability to move definitely helps, but until Devontae Booker’s 99-yard effort against the Raiders, they hadn’t established their running backs as much of a factor – even when Barkley was healthy early in the season.
Booker actually became a factor a week ago in Kansas City (with 125 total yards, though only 60 on the ground). On Sunday, against a strong Raiders front, the Giants could see how effective a running game can be. Jones didn’t have much time for big plays in the passing game. But Booker kept the offense moving.
That will have to continue. And when Barkley’s back, he can’t just be boom-or-bust with his runs. He has to be much more consistent than he’s been. Booker has proven they should work him in when Barkley is back, too.
A big-play threat has to emerge
Remember the excitement and energy everyone felt when Toney had his breakout 10 catch, 189-yard game against the Cowboys? It wasn’t just felt by fans, either. The players felt it, too. He gave them a boost with his high-octane performance, his dazzling catches and the Odell-like way he got out of trouble and turned short passes into big gains.
The Giants aren’t going to survive long with the kind of ground-and-pound game they played against the Raiders, with Jones throwing for only 110 yards. Yes, they need that running game, but this is still a passing league and their air attack can’t just be “managed.” It needs to have a play-making element that it looked like Toney was bringing until he hurt his ankle and, later, his thumb.
Toney is the most likely player to bring that. Golladay was supposed to bring it in a different way too. And Barkley, of course, can be that kind of player as a runner or receiver. One of them needs to become that down the stretch, because if the Giants are going to go on a run towards the playoffs, their anemic offense definitely needs a jolt.