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Giants vs. Rams: 5 things to watch on Sunday

Can the underdog Giants find a way to win?

Denver Broncos v New York Giants
Will the Giants give their fans reason to stick around on Sunday?
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The 1-4 New York Giants return to MetLife Stadium Sunday to host the 4-1 Los Angeles Rams. Here are some of the things to watch as the game unfolds.

Run, Daniel, run?

Quarterback Daniel Jones has cleared the concussion protocol and is expected to play Sunday. That is good news. How the Giants use Jones will be interesting to watch.

Jones (197 yards) is the Giants’ leading rusher, and is third among all quarterbacks. He has 30 rushing attempts, second-most on the team behind Saquon Barkley (54).

Barkley, of course, won’t play because of the nasty-looking ankle injury he suffered last week against the Dallas Cowboys.

After Jones’ concussion, suffered when he hit Jabril Cox of Dallas helmet-to-helmet while trying to score on a run from the 1-yard line, will the Giants incorporate Jones’ ability to run into the game plan? Or, to protect their young quarterback from his aggressive nature, will they leave the running up to Devontae Booker and others?

Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said during the week that it would be “foolish” for the Giants not to use Jones’ running ability in some way.

“It’s been such an asset for us, both him making plays spontaneously by moving in the pocket, but also some design stuff. Those have been good plays for us,” Garrett said. “But at the same time, you have to be certainly aware of that. You don’t want to overdo that and put him in harms way. I think we’re understanding more and more, he’s understanding more and more the balance between those.”

You wonder if the Giants will lean more into “Wildcat” plays with exciting rookie Kadarius Toney taking the shotgun snap. They debuted that in Week 5 vs. the Cowboys, and that might be yet another way to get the ball to Toney. As a former quarterback, Toney is also always a threat to throw in those situations.

“Well, obviously he’s a very dangerous athlete. We’ve seen him in a short period of time do a lot of different things. He’s dynamic with the ball in his hands and he has a quarterback background, so he seems very comfortable doing those things. It’s not like, ‘Hey, do this because you’re a really good athlete,’ “ Garrett said. “I mean, he has a feel and an instinct for those things. He has some history with that. I think he’s proving that when you get the ball in his hands, he can do some real positive things for you. That’s just another way to do that.”

Some “acceptable” defense?

The Giants, 26th in the NFL in points allowed and 29th in yards allowed, have vastly under-performed expectations on defense this season. There isn’t a single defensive position group that has played up to expectations thus far. The Giants gave up an unsightly 515 yards to the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday, and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham knows they need to be better.

“When you give up 500-plus yards in terms of offense, that’s not usually winning football, so it’s completely unacceptable. Completely unacceptable. In terms of that, again, what I have to do and what we have to do collectively as a group is we have to look at ourselves in the mirror and we’ve got to figure out what can we do better because, again, as you lead into this week – one of the most explosive offenses in the league, they’ve got players all over the place, the coach is a genius, the quarterback is smart, they can throw the ball, run. It’s everything,” Graham said. “It’s a challenge and I talk to you guys about having a challenge and stuff like that after performances like that and now you’ve got the Rams coming in here, I mean we’re going to find out. We’re going to find out. I mean, we’re going to find out. So, it’s time. Again, myself, I’m starting with me first, we’ve got to find out. We’ve got to find out. We’ve got to get up there, we’ve got to stop the run, that’s the goal for Sunday. We’ve got to minimize what they do on offense. We’ve got to find out. We’ve got to find out. To answer your question, it’s unacceptable. It’s unacceptable.”

The Giants are, of course, without linebacker Blake Martinez. He is out for the season with a torn ACL. The real problem for the Giants is that their star players — Leonard Williams, James Bradberry, Logan Ryan, Adoree’ Jackson — have yet to play to expectations. Also, younger players like Dexter Lawrence and Xavier McKinney have yet to really show steps forward in terms of production.

“Our best players have to play well. That’s how the league is set up, your best players have to play well,” Graham said.

So far they have not. That needs to change if the Giants are going to have any chance to win on Sunday.

A repeat performance from KT?

Toney had a truly special 10-catch, 189-yard performance last Sunday against Dallas. The Giants targeted him 13 times. He also ran the ball once for 7 yards.

Toney said Friday that nothing has changed for him despite the attention he has been receiving.

“It’s been the same for me, I come in every day and work,” Toney said. “You know, put it all out there.”

Two things, though, have changed. First, the Giants are trusting their first-round pick more and more. Second, you can bet that Toney will see at least some of Rams’ All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey on Sunday.

Judge was impresses by Toney’s decision-making two weeks ago against the New Orleans Saints when the Giants called a reverse pass with Toney trying to throw downfield. Seeing the play covered, Toney held the ball and ran with it.

“It’s key to see a young guy like that make the right decision,” Judge said. “When you see a guy that makes those right decisions, it gives you more trust to say, ‘alright, give him some more on his plate.’ And when he does more of that, we’ll give him some more of that.”

A reporter baited Toney on Friday, asking him if he thought Ramsey, a two-time All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowler, could cover him. The rookie gave a mature answer.

“It’s football, everybody has their on-plays and off-plays,” Toney said. “It’s equal when you step on the field.”

Ramsey is a notorious trash-talker. If he lines up across from Toney, you can bet he will be trying to get under the rookie’s skin.

“If he’s going to try – I mean, you can always attempt, but you can’t always get the result that you want out of it,” Toney said.

The Giants will have Jones, Sterling Shepard, and probably Andrew Thomas and Darius Slayton to help their cause on Sunday. They will, though, need some big plays from Toney if they are to have any chance of an upset.

Offensive line configuration

The Giants have played five games and started a different offensive line combination in each of them. What will the line look like this week?

Andrew Thomas, who played well in the first four games before suffering a foot injury that kept him on the sidelines Week 5 against the Cowboys, remains questionable. He did practice on Thursday and Friday, though, and I would expect him to play on Sunday.

If he does not, it might be Matt Peart at left tackle. Peart played well on the right side vs. Dallas, while Nate Solder struggled at left tackle. This week it was reportedly Peart taking left tackle reps with Thomas limited.

The real question at tackle for me is when will the Giants finally do the right thing and commit to Peart at the full-time right tackle?

Solder is a terrific person and gives everything he has, but at 33 he doesn’t have much and he’s not part of the Giants’ future. He is ranked 48th by Pro Football Focus out of 60. qualifying tackles. As a pass blocker he is 50th out of 54 qualifiers. Solder is 47th out of 50 tackles in pass blocking efficiency.

Peart played well at times as a rookie. He played well last week vs. Dallas. The Giants invested a third-round pick in him. They are 1-4. There is no point in Peart not playing.

Judge said this week that Peart did “a decent job,” and would only commit to him being part of the tackle rotation.

Left guard, as it has been each week, will also be interesting. Matt Skura is the starter, but played limited snaps last week and was limited this week with a knee injury. Wes Martin, recently signed off the Washington Football Team, played 39 snaps in that spot vs. the Cowboys. The Giants also expect Ben Bredeson, who has missed two games with a hand injury, to be available Sunday. I have no idea how the playing time will shake out there.

The MetLife mood

The last time the Giants were at MetLife Stadium they lost a Week 3 game they should have to a terrible Atlanta Falcons team. That dropped them to 0-3, left fans unhappy, led to garbage cans being overturned outside John Mara’s suite, and pretty much wrecked what had begun as a festive day honoring former quarterback Eli Manning.

How full is the stadium going to be? If things don’t go well, and they are not expected to with the Giants being 10-point underdogs per DraftKings Sportsbook, how ugly is it going to get in the stadium? I know this much — if it’s not close, there will be hardly any fans remaining in the fourth quarter.

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