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Giants vs. Chargers storylines: Justin Herbert vs. Jake Fromm, and Joe Judge vs. Brandon Staley

Here are a few things to pay attention to in this week’s Giants-Chargers game

Los Angeles Chargers v Cincinnati Bengals
Brandon Staley
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The 4-8 New York Giants continue to muddle along toward the end of another disappointing season when they face the 7-5 Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.

At least the Giants are experiencing some nice weather. They played Sunday in Miami, are spending the week in Arizona and will play Sunday in Inglewood, Calif.

Here are some of this week’s storylines.

Justin Herbert vs. Jake Fromm?

That hardly seems like a fair fight. The Chargers will be led by their star quarterback, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and a player the Giants were thought to have coveted before he went back to school in 2018. The Giants will likely be led by a 2020 fifth-round pick of the Buffalo Bills who has been on the roster less than two weeks and who has never taken an NFL snap.

Let’s hope it ends up being fun watching Fromm play. This has the potential, though, to get ugly.

Who’s in, who’s out?

Beyond the quarterback situation, the Giants still have a lot of questions regarding who will and won’t play.

Wide receiver is particularly noteworthy. Who will Fromm be throwing to? Sterling Shepard (quad) has missed seven games this season and hasn’t played since Week 8. Kadarius Toney (oblique/quad) has missed the last two games. Kenny Golladay came out of Sunday’s game vs. the Miami Dolphins with a rib injury.

At cornerback, Adoree’ Jackson missed the Miami game with a quad injury. His status is unknown.

And, yes, the Giants do lead the league in players on IR.

Improvement, please

There probably isn’t much the Giants can do about their anemic offense at this point. They are likely down to a third-string quarterback who has never played in a regular-season game. Chris Snee, Shaun O’Hara, David Diehl, Rich Seubert and Kareem McKenzie are not suddenly going to show up on the offensive line. Wide receiver is still a revolving door with an ever-changing cast of guys practicing and playing. Saquon Barkley still doesn’t look remotely close to the player he once was.

The Giants might be able to make some incremental improvements on offense. A continued focus on getting the guys who should be their best players the ball would help. Maybe letting some of the younger offensive linemen play is worth a try.

The Giants, though, can certainly do things to improve in other area. And they need to.

Can head coach Joe Judge and his staff finally get a handle on the sideline dysfunction that has led to too many unnecessary timeouts and penalties this season?

Can Judge show a willingness to shed that ultra-conservative nature and stop making it harder on his players to win games?

Can the Giants do something about the embarrassing fact that they have been outscored 52-0 in the final two minutes of the first half this season? Is that poor game management? Poor offense? Poor defense? I don’t know. It’s probably all three. It is also ridiculous.

Two different philosophies

Judge (39 and in his second season) and Staley (38 and in his first season) are both young, first-time head coaches who are growing into the job. Considering their similarities in age and years of experience, their styles stand in stark contract.

We know that Judge is a conservative coach. Play the field position game. Trust the defense. Keep the game close and look to be in position to win it late.

After passing on a few fourth-and-short opportunities Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, Judge said things like “we’re not afraid to play to our defense,” that “making them have longer fields” was part of the plan and that the Giants were “trusting our defense to get the ball back.”

Staley, on the other hand, has been one of the league’s most aggressive coaches in terms of going for broke.

Peter King wrote about Staley’s fourth-down aggression in this week ‘Football Morning in America’ column Here is part of that discussion:

You don’t even have to watch the games closely this year to notice that coaches are shedding the arch-conservative ethos on fourth downs to go for it more, and to go for it in their own territory much more than the past. One of the leaders is rookie Chargers coach Brandon Staley, 39, who’s been an unconventional play-caller and strategist since taking over in L.A. Through 12 weeks of the season, one of the leaders in the space, EdjSports (a subsidiary of Champion Gaming, had Staley in first place in its Offensive Play-Calling Metric, also called the Critical Call Index, which analyzes coaching decisions on fourth downs.

Through 12 weeks, the Chargers were 12 of 20 on fourth-down conversions, a win rate of 60 percent.

I thought the best way to show how the game is changing would be to take one of the Chargers’ fourth-down calls that traditionally would have been an automatic punt, and show why Staley made the decision he did, and how EdjSports co-founder and Champion Gaming chief innovation officer Frank Frigo analyzed all of Staley’s options on the play, by feeding the parameters into a program and running it thousands of times.

Staley: “We went into the season with aggressive modeling, and our modeling for this situation was ‘go’ all the way.” He said the Chargers’ analytics team of Aditya Krishnan and Alex Stearns and offensive assistant/game management Dan Shamash helped create the aggressive strategic stance. Also: The Browns had just driven 75 yards in five plays to score and take a 14-point lead, and Staley wanted defenders to get a breather and gather their thoughts on how to stop the Browns.

Frigo: “Because the Chargers already had a low probability of winning there, they’re probably gaining much more on the success of going for it and making it than they would be losing by going for it and failing. Plus, on an open-field fourth-and-two, the chances are better than they’d be on the goal line.”

The Chargers converted, increasing their chance of winning by more than 15 percent. They wen ton to score and win, 47-42.

Staley: “What I’ve learned and come to accept and embrace is, I don’t care how we lose, or the optics of it. Being ‘conservative’ just preserves stats and lets you feel that you’re closer than you really are. My mindset is to do everything we can to win the game on our terms, not someone else’s. And if it doesn’t happen, I’m good with that.”

Heading into Week 12, Judge was No. 28 in EdjSports CCI ranking and No. 30 overall. Staley was No. 1 in both categories.

Another nugget from King:

Top five

1. Staley
2. Matt LaFleur
3. Kliff Kingsbury
4. Sean McDermott
5. Frank Reich

Bottom five

28. Pete Carroll
29. Dan Campbell
30. Joe Judge
31. Robert Saleh
32. Mike Tomlin

Team records through 12 weeks of the top five coaches: 37-20. Bottom five: 15-38-2.

A milestone coming for Evan Engram

Evan Engram is always a lightning-rod figure when discussed by the Giants fan base. Engram, though, is on the cusp of a nice career milestone. He needs five receptions to become only the sixth tight end in NFL history to have 40 or more receptions in each of their first five seasons.