When it has come to tight end Evan Engram, the 2020 season has been one of surprises.
The first was Engram's unexpected Pro Bowl berth, which was announced last week. The other has been Engram, who had struggled to make it through a full season, coming through the first 15 games of the season despite some bumps and bruises.
But this week, Engram's quest to play his first full season could be in danger as he tweaked his left ankle against the Ravens.
Although Engram played through the injury, he could end up being limited this week in practice.
"He’s already seen our training staff and met with the doctors after the game," said head coach Joe Judge on Monday. "That’s all kind of standard procedure. Look, we’re optimistic about where he’s going to be. That being said, this will be a deal where we have to see how he moves around on Wednesday in practice.
"From the feedback we got from the doctors, for them, it’s a lot of wait-and-see and watch to see how he responds. But we are optimistic. I have not spoken directly to Evan today myself. I checked in with him yesterday after the game, obviously, and talked with him a little bit when we got back, but nothing extensively."
While Engram's overall season was disappointing for the Giants, the Pro Bowl nod combined with the feat of finishing a full season would have been a career milestone for Engram, who is entering the option year of his rookie contract in 2021.
Whether he can follow through on proving his durability is in question, and the Giants could be without their lone offensive Pro Bowler for their most important game of the season.
Where is Will?
Offensive guard Will Hernandez played 2,523 consecutive offensive snaps, jumping into the lineup as a rookie Day 1 starter at left guard.
But he saw his streak end in Week 8 of this year after he tested positive for COVID-19. And since returning, Hernandez seems to have lost his hold on his playing time to rookie Shane Lemieux, who has taken most of the snaps at left guard.
Against the Ravens, Hernandez played in just ten snaps, none of which are believed to have come in the second half. This raised questions about his status, which head coach Joe Judge claims is all part of the on-going offensive line rotation that they play by the game's flow.
"There hasn’t been a designated snap count on any player going in," Judge said. "I’ve let [offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo] have some autonomy in terms of as the game gets going, the flow goes, to put in what we think is best for the schemes that we’re running.
"We check in and we talk continuously throughout the week. The plan is to play all of our guys at the game. It’s always been our plan and to use guys continuously. We’ll continue to use Will, and we’ll rotate all three guards going forward."
Hernandez, a second-round pick out of UTEP in 2018, was once praised by general manager Dave Gettleman for his durability and resiliency. However, after a very promising rookie season, Hernandez's play seemed to stall last year and again this year as he's been unable to unseat Lemieux for most of the snaps.
Hernandez has only played an average of 25.5% of offensive snaps according to Pro Football Reference, and with only one year left on his rookie deal, his future with the team might be cloudy at best.
"We base everything here on production, so in terms of who’s playing on what snaps, we may have different guys in different schemes," Judge said. "There are different times we want to use different guys throughout the game. We put a priority on keeping all of our guys fresh, and we’re looking to develop as many guys as we can.
"I’d say all three guards--Kevin (Zeitler), Shane and Will--have played well at times. There have been things we want to improve on with our entire unit going across the board. But we’re going to continue to rotate those guys going forward."
The Run Defense's Struggles
The Giants' run defense was one of the better units in the NFL, ranking at or near the top 10 league-wide for the majority of the season.
On Sunday against the Ravens, that unit was gashed to the tune of a season-high 249 yards.
While the Ravens' dynamic offense creates a wider range of elements to account for than most offenses, slowing the unit down has proven to be possible this season through sound and fundamental gap assignments.
Linebacker and defensive captain Blake Martinez did not sugarcoat what went wrong for the Giants on Sunday, saying it all came down to a simple matter of not keeping up with assignments.
"When we went into this week, we knew we had to be gap sound, assignment sound, just because they use every aspect of their offense," Martinez said.
"Obviously, their quarterback can run, running back can run. They are able to do multiple things: motions, shifts, all these types of ways to out-leverage you. When you went back and looked at the film, it just came down to assignment football.
"The way I look at it was you have 11 on 11. One guy has to be holding the ball, so there’s 10 against 11 to block. If we can fit it right, one guy should be free and we just didn’t do our assignment on each one of those plays to be able to have that free guy being the advantage. We didn’t make the plays when they came to us."
The good news for the Giants is that an improvement in discipline and fundamentals should yield a much better performance against the Cowboys, as schematically they have proven capable of adjusting to any opponent. And the run defense issues are certain to be a point of emphasis this week at practice.
Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has been praised for his relentlessness in finding solutions to problems, and Martinez believes this coming week will be no exception.
"Pat has been super open for communication," Martinez said. "I think being able to listen to us and understand what we’re seeing out there, or what’s difficult for us on any given play within the first half compared to the second half.
"I think when it came down to it, kind of going back to the first thing I was saying, guys were in the right spots to start the play, and then all of the sudden they were able to leverage that player or group of players.
"Now they all of the sudden had that advantage on that play. You couldn’t scrape over the top or get over the offensive linemen or the fullback, whoever it ended up being. It allowed them to just have that open running lane."
The Giants need to beat Dallas Sunday and hope for a Philadelphia win over the Eagles if they're to win the NFC East for the first time since 2011.