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New York Giants Storylines from First Four Games That Are Shaping 2021 Season

Presenting Part 1 of our three-part series covering Storylines and Surprises (Parts 1 and 2) of the Giants first four games and then concluding with "What to Watch" over the next several weeks.

The New York Giants haven’t given their fans much to smile about in the first quarter of the 2021 season, at least on the field.

They lost their first three games against Denver, Washington, and Atlanta—all winnable contests—and left people to wonder if this franchise had gone backward in its progress made under head coach Joe Judge in his first season.

While things didn’t look good for a while there, the Giants started to show signs of improvement that lent itself to suggesting that better days might be ahead. 

Sure enough, by the time they were done with the first four games of their 17-game campaign, the Giants delivered an inspiring overtime road win against the New Orleans Saints in which they overcame an 11-point, fourth-quarter deficit.

While that one game was inspiring enough to think that better days are ahead, the Giants need to continue building on what they could finally accomplish against a very good Saints team.

In this first of this three-part series, we'll take a look at the storylines that emerged from the first four weeks of the Giants 2021 season. 

Check back throughout the day for Part 2 (Surprises) and Part 3 (What to Watch).


Three Major Storylines from the First 4 Games

New York Giants inside linebacker Blake Martinez (54) is helped off the field in the first half at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in East Rutherford.

New York Giants inside linebacker Blake Martinez (54) is helped off the field in the first half at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in East Rutherford.

Injuries

Last year, the Giants had the steam removed from their sails when they lost running back and offensive co-captain Saquon Barkley after just five quarters of play to a devastating torn ACL.

The Giants found a way to regroup and carry on for their fallen leader, the running game functioning well through a committee approach.

The injury bug has upped its game this year, but the Giants are still showing resilience thanks to the depth general manager Dave Gettleman amassed.

New York lost two of its team captains, inside linebacker Blake Martinez (ACL) and offensive lineman Nick Gates (broken leg) for the season and could be without offensive lineman Shane Lemieux (knee) for the entire year as well.

Sticking with the offensive line, which has seen six combinations in their first four games, the unit has been steady and the least of the team’s problems. That’s a big credit to the coaching as led by Rob Sale, who is in his first season as the Giants offensive line coach and as an NFL coach in general.

“That’s a real tribute to those guys individually,” said offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. “How hard they work every day, they’re real pros up front. We’ve had some guys that have been with us for a little bit, but then we’ve had some guys who are new. There have been some moving parts up there, but their approach is outstanding.”

The injury bug also bit into the depth at receiver, sidelining Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton for one game. However, the Giants overcame those losses by increasing the opportunities for rookie Kadarius Toney in the slot and getting Kenny Golladay more involved in the deep passing game.

Right now, the jury is still out on the Giants’ plan to replace Martinez at middle linebacker. New York has fielded Tae Crowder and Reggie Ragland in the middle with mixed results. Will Carter Coughlin and perhaps a safety (Jabrill Peppers or Xavier McKinney) take on more of that pseudo inside linebacker role moving forward?

New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) hands the ball off to running back Saquon Barkley (26) in the first half at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in East Rutherford.

New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) hands the ball off to running back Saquon Barkley (26) in the first half at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in East Rutherford.

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Saquon Returns

Coach Gene Clemons went into a more detailed look at the triumphant return of Giant running back Saquon Barkley and how he’s shown with each passing week that he’s closer to being his old self.

But I want to quickly mention this storyline because besides the feel-good story Barkley has going for him right now, his return has been huge for the Giants offense.

In the first four games, Barkley’s impact was minimal at best for a couple of reasons.

One, his workload was managed, gradually increasing with each passing week. But more importantly, with the Giants often being in catchup mode, the passing yardage has understandably been more than double the rushing yardage.

That said, last week, we got our first truly complete look at what Barkley’s presence in the lineup can do for this offense.

Put him in the backfield, and you’re daring defenses to stack the box, which in turn leaves the speedy receivers on the outside against single coverage.

Put Barkley out wide as a receiver, and now you create the mismatch that this team has been talking about creating ever since Barkley walked in the door for them.

Sep 16, 2021; Landover, Maryland, USA; The New York Giants offense lines up against the Washington Football Team defense in the second quarter at FedExField.

Sep 16, 2021; Landover, Maryland, USA; The New York Giants offense lines up against the Washington Football Team defense in the second quarter at FedExField.

The Offensive Line

The Giants brass kept its cool about the offensive line all off-season long, promising that the unit was better than the general perception.

Thus far, the unit has been functional, but there were some significant blips along the way that no doubt had the Giants brass wondering if they might look like fools for putting such a high amount of confidence in the offensive line.

Some of these blips were unexpected, namely the retirements of Joe Looney and Zach Fulton, which forced the Giants to trade for Billy Price and Ben Bredeson, and then the poaching of offensive tackle Jackson Barton off the practice squad by the Raiders.

Then there were the injuries to Nick Gates and Shane Lemieux that no one saw coming and which sent the Giants down a path where they have had six different combinations since the start of the season.

The one blip that is on the Giants is the lack of development by offensive tackle Matt Peart. Peart was projected to be the starting right tackle this year, but he could not beat out Nate Solder, who now holds the job.

Recently, Peart has started getting some work at guard. The Giants are also taking a flier on former Titans first-round draft pick Isaiah Wilson, a player whose career the Giants are trying to salvage, so that when Solder’s contract ends, Wilson might be ready next season to compete for the right tackle role.

Part 2: The Surprises, will be online at 11 a.m. ET.


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