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Five Giants Musings from the Week that Was

Some thoughts from the build-up to the New York Giants Week 4 game against the Chicago Bears.

A few leftover thoughts about all things New York Giants from the week that was.

1. Through three games, we can probably all agree that running back Saquon Barkley has been one of the reliable playmakers on the offense.

But his deployment as a runner so far has been something of a head scratcher, as for whatever reason, offensive coordinator Mike Kafka hasn't fully unleashed Barkley until the second half of the game.

Let’s look at some numbers. In the first half of the three games played, Barkley has run the ball just 18 times for 71 yards with zero rushing touchdowns. Within that period, the Giants, who have remained close to each of their first three opponents, have been outscored 25-9.

In the second half of the game, Barkley has received 35 touches and has rushed for 246 yards with two rushing touchdowns. And over that same period, the Giants have outscored opponents 47-34.

And let’s look at the effect on the passing game, specific to sacks. Quarterback Daniel Jones has been sacked eight times in the first half and only five in the second.

Balanced offense? Not quite. Considering the passing game's struggles, from the protection to receivers not getting open or separating, why not deploy Barkley more in the first half of games?

“I think you have to evaluate that, and that’s what we do as a staff every week is – how do we get certain guys going, making sure we are doing the right things,” said Kafka. 

“There’s plenty of good to build on, and there are things that you want to continue to improve on. That’s where we’re at right now, and we’re focused on that this week at practice.”

Considering the Giants have come out of the gate slowly, what would it hurt to put the ball in the hands of its best playmaker sooner and more often than they’ve done so far?

It will be interesting to see if this philosophy changes against the Bears this weekend. Chicago is currently tied for 30th against the run (with Seattle), allowing opponents an average of 157.0 rushing yards per game. Despite holding back Barkley in the first half of games, the Giants are currently fourth in the league in rushing yards per game (169.3).

2. When people look back at the Giants' decisions at inside linebacker, there's no question that the season-ending ACL injury suffered by Darrian Beavers was an underrated turning point.

I firmly believe that Beavers was in a position to eventually supplant Blake Martinez and Tae Crowder as the lead inside linebacker, given how well he was playing in the summer. But when Beavers was injured, I thought that might open the door more for Martinez.

Such was not the case, as the Giants, for whatever reasons, decided to send Martinez packing at the start of the season. That left the hole created by the Beavers' injury even wider, and the team seems to be paying for it these days.

Crowder, who stepped in for Martinez last year when he suffered a season-ending injury, is not an every-down linebacker--he really never was. Crowder had a league-high five missed tackles in Week 3, per Pro Football Focus, and now has missed a league-leading 36.4 percent of his tackle attempts on the season.

Austin Calitro, who made plays in the summer, has unfortunately made some noticeable mental mistakes since the season started, most recently taking the wrong gap on the 46-yard run by Dallas running back Tony Pollard in the second quarter, a gaffe that earned him a benching.

The Giants brought back Jaylon Smith as a possible solution to their inside linebacker issue. Smith might not have the speed and range he once had prior to a  devastating knee injury, but last year he was one of the more physical and dependable linebackers the Giants had when it came to filling holes.

Will Smith be ready for Sunday if need be?

"He’s working at it," said head coach Brian Daboll. "We tell all the guys on the practice squad that it’s an extension of the roster. You have more players, learn the stuff, learn how we do things, and we’ll evaluate it on a week-to-week basis. He’s done a good job since he’s been here.

"He took some reps out there. He’s been a good addition up to this point."

Last year, Smith, who joined the Giants during the season, finished second on the team among the linebackers in quarterback pressures with seven (in 26 pass rush snaps).

Smith's NFL coverage rating (97.2) was also the second-best on the team among the linebackers with at least 100 pass coverage snaps, again, behind Crowder's 88.5

3. I raised this question on Twitter and in my Friday podcast, but it's worth mentioning again.

My question was simple. When the Giants traded receiver Odell Beckham Jr, their only playmaker at the time, many fans screamed in protest. Yet when talks of trading Saquon Barkley, currently the team's only consistent playmaker on offense, have popped up, the same fan base seems more in favor of moving him.

I asked in my Twitter post why that was. Among the logical responses I received include "because Barkley is a Dave Gettleman draft pick" (so are Andrew Thomas, Dexter Lawrence, and Xavier McKinney), "teams don't win when they overpay running backs" (who said the Giants were going to overpay him?) and "the Giants are rebuilding" (yes, but since when is it a good idea to send away core pieces of the team during a rebuild).

Here's where I stand on the matter. Unless general manager Joe Schoen gets an offer that blows his socks off--and at this point, I don't see that happening--I wouldn't move Barkley in a trade, not even for whatever salary cap space they'd get at this point.

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I get it that Barkley is in the final year of his contract and that there is concern that if he leaves, the Giants won't be able to benefit until the following year, assuming they get a comp pick.

But here's the thing. If the Giants do move on from Daniel Jones at quarterback--and right now, that's up in the air--it doesn't make sense to send away playmakers with a new quarterback on tap for next season (which, if you think about it, is what they did with Beckham).

As for those worried about the money, if Jones isn't the quarterback next year, I'd apply the franchise tag to Barkley at the estimated $12.696 million price tag, which would be guaranteed.

If he continues to be a consistent playmaker, maybe I look to get him signed to a 2-3 year deal to lower his cap figure. Then I turn my attention to extending left tackle Andrew Thomas and/or safety Xavier McKinney, both of whom would be eligible to have their contracts extended after this season.

Now with all that said, it's too soon to say what the Giants will or won't do--we still need to see where they end up drafting and how both Jones and Barkley's seasons play out.

But with about a month to go before the November 1 trade deadline, it certainly will be fascinating to see what Schoen is able to put together to increase next year's draft cache.

4. I've found it interesting that this Giants regime has been reluctant to put guys on injured reserve despite being able to designate up to eight players from IR. I think there are a few reasons for that.

First, the Giants just don't have an abundance of cap space to where they can swap guys on and off the roster. (Players on IR do count toward the cap, in case you were wondering).

I believe that the Giants are trying to be as reasonable as possible when it comes to spending, as the only other major contract they could touch if they need more cap space would be Kenny Golladay's, a contract they're believed to want to dump after this year.

The second reason why I think the Giants have been reluctant to place guys on IR is that once a player is added to that list, he can't practice with the team until a minimum of four weeks have passed. 

I suspect the Giants management believes that if a guy has a chance to get better week by week, why consider shutting him down if there's a chance he can do something on the practice field to keep the rust at a minimum? If that's indeed a factor, it certainly makes sense.

The third reason is the Giants currently have seven players on injured reserve. Of those, receivers Sterling Shepard and Collin Johnson, linebacker Darrian Beavers, and offensive lineman Marcus McKethan all had injuries that required surgery and will take months to rehab. 

But there are three others on IR--cornerback Rodarius Williams, outside linebacker Ellerson Smith, and offensive lineman Shane Lemieux--eligible to return off IR after this weekend.

Considering the issues with the offensive line and at cornerback, Lemieux (foot) and Williams (knee) have a pretty good chance of being activated once both are deemed healthy enough. (Lemieux is still in a walking boot as of last check, so he might still be a few weeks away from returning.) 

The same could be said about Smith (foot), as his presence will give the Giants another pass rusher.

Moving forward, I'd be interested in seeing if the Giants, with a healthier cap situation, exercise the same patience when it comes to guys with multi-week injuries. I would hope they would, as I think it's smart to let guys continue to do what they can in practice rather than completely shutting them down.

5. Last week, the Giants left the door open--if just a crack--for defensive lineman Leonard Williams (knee) to play against Dallas when they listed him as doubtful on the final injury report.

This week, the Giants slammed that door shut, listing Williams as OUT of Sunday's game against the Bears, a hard pill for Williams, who had not missed a game in his NFL career due to injury before Monday night.

“It’s harder during the week because I can’t go out there and practice with them,” he said. “In the meeting rooms, I’m paying attention as much as possible, but then I know I’m not playing in the games. So, it’s kind of hard. I’m being engaged as much as possible, and I’m treating it and rehabbing as much as possible. But it’s hard not to do as much as they’re doing. And I’ve never really been in that type of position. I’m not the type of guy that takes vet days or anything like that because I’m the type of guy that likes to put in the work.”

Unlike last week, when he stayed inside during the team's practices, Williams was spotted outside on the side field with a trainer, a step in the right direction. And Williams has sought to remain as involved as he can with things, such as when he pointed out something he saw on film to teammate Dexter Lawerence before the game against the Cowboys.

But make no mistake. Williams, who said he's been able to "do some running and field work" on his healing knee, and who admitted that his MCL sprain "still doesn’t feel 100 percent yet,” would rather fast forward to when he can be on the field playing in the trenches.

As to when that date is, Williams doesn't know, as he's not going to torture himself mentally by setting a date that he may or may not be able to meet.

“I don’t think that helps because I can come back sooner than a date circled,” he said. “I don’t want to put that into my mind of trying to reach a certain date. I’m more just taking it day-by-day, honestly.”


 

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