The 2018 season started out with much promise for the New York Giants. They had a new head coach who was the mastermind behind one of the most improved offenses in the league the year before, had drafted an uber-talented running back, and signed their best player to a historic contract. They believed they had fixed their offensive line (which had been the Achilles heel of their offense), and were set to put a dismal 3-13 2017 season behind them.
They promptly got out to a 1-7 start that looked entirely too familiar to Giant fans. The team hit a stretch of good luck following their week 9 bye and played four back-up quarterbacks in a span of five weeks. They won each of those games to keep their play-off hopes on life support until they were finally ended by a shut-out loss to the Tennessee Titans.
Now the Giants simply hope to end their season on a high note with a win over the Dallas Cowboys. But can their offense finally get the job done against a play-off team?
Stats that matter
Which offense will we see?
This has been another one of those ever-green sub-heads this season. We have seen instances where the Giants have broken out of their offensive shell and used schemes and concepts which not only compensated for their own limitations, but played defenses like a fiddle. We saw it most recently in the first half of the Giants’ game last week. The Giants used misdirection, roll-outs, and play-action to wreck the Colts’ pass rush while flooding zone coverages with receivers to create quick and easy reads for Eli Manning. It worked fantastically and caught Indianapolis’ defense completely by surprise.
But when the Giants try to go back to their vanilla offense, they quickly lose traction. Their offensive line has been completely outclassed lately and largely failed to open holes for Saquon Barkley.
That offensive scheme wasn’t anything we hadn’t seen from them before. the big difference was that rather than being elements of a scheme they employed when the basics weren’t working, they made it the foundation.
The question now is whether or not they will take its success as a lesson for the future, or go back to what we have seen fail before.
Can Saquon Barkley put his cape back on?
It has been two and a half games since the Giants’ rookie phenom has had an explosive play. And that drought has put a stark light on just how dependent their running game is on them. To put how important his explosive plays are for the Giants’ running game (and offense in general), Barkley has had totaled 113 yards on the ground over the last three weeks on non-explosive rushing plays. That isn’t a knock on Barkley at all, but rather how the offensive line has been run blocking of late. Barkley has tried to obey the coaches’ directive to get “dirty yards,” but it doesn’t help if he is being run into the back of the offensive line.
The Giants found a way around that against the Colts, and (as discussed above) that should form the basis for their offense going forward. However, if they can rediscover some semblance of a running game, it will help the offense as a whole. And while those explosive plays are unpredictable at best, they serve to keep a defense on its heels.
Also, they’re just plain fun to watch. It’s going to be a long offseason, and a couple more highlight plays for the road would be nice.
How hard will the Cowboys play?
Dallas SHOULD play as though this is an elimination game. That’s the mentality with which a team should approach the play-offs. However, the last time they were in this situation, they quickly pulled starters in the interests of staying healthy for the post-season.
The Giants absolutely want to finish the season on a high note, with a win over a division rival. That win would likely be more meaningful if they are playing their starters and playing to win, rather than to hide wrinkles from the Seahawks and not get hurt. On the other hand, the Giants have beaten precisely one starting offense this season — the Houston Texans with DeShaun Watson way back in week three. They nearly pulled it off against the Eagles and Colts in the second half of the season, but both times, fourth quarter collapses doomed the Giants.
If the Giants want the win, their best bet is that Dallas will be looking ahead to football in January. But if they want to actually finish with reason to believe that they are on the right track, for the future, then they will want to actually beat a Dallas team which is trying to go in to the post-season with a quality win of their own.