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Giants vs. Lions, Week 11: 5 things to watch this week

Can Saquon Barkley keep up the pace? That, and other thoughts on things to watch as the Giants seek their eighth victory

NFL: Houston Texans at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants find themselves just one game out of first place in the NFC East, and one game from the best record in the NFC, following the Philadelphia Eagles’ loss to the Washington Commanders on Monday night.

The 7-2 Giants host the 3-6 Detroit Lions on Sunday in a game they need to win before their schedule ratchets up in difficulty. Five of the Giants’ final seven games are against NFC East opponents, and the Giants also have a road game against the 8-1 Minnesota Vikings.

Here are five things to watch this week.

Shouldering the load

Can Saquon Barkley keep up this pace? Coming off his 35-carry, 152-yard game last week against the Houston Texans, Barkley is averaging a career-high 25.2 touches per game. He has carried the ball 20 or more times in five of the last six games. Barkley leads the NFL in touches with 227, and is on pace for 429. That would blow away his career-high of 352 touches in 2018. He leads the league in rushing yards with 931, and rushing yards per game (103.4).

Can the 25-year-old keep carrying such a heavy load? Can he stay healthy if head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka continue asking him to do so much?

Barkley said after Sunday’s game that it was “really fun” to carry such a heavy workload.

“I know that’s the conversation of how many carries or how many touches I had but it’s my job to be a pro, go in there, get in the cold tub, get in the hot tub and get ready for next week,” Barkley said.

The 30-point barrier

We talk a lot about whether or not the way the Giants are playing — run-heavy offense, quality defense, taking advantage of opponents’ mistakes to win close games late — is sustainable.

The Giants have neither scored nor allowed 30 points in a game this season. In fact, the Giants are riding a streak of 37 consecutive games during which they have not reached the 30-point mark on offense. The last time they did was in a 37-34 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 1, 2020.

Daboll said “I don’t know” when asked this week if the Giants could win if they were forced out of their offensive comfort zone, forced to open things up, rely on the passing game, and take more risks.

Detroit is a team capable of making the Giants find out.

The Lions are 3-6, but they are ninth in the league in scoring at 24.3 points per game. The Giants are 22nd at 20.8. The Lions are sixth in the league in yards per game (371.2). The Giants are 23rd (325.8). Detroit has scored more than 30 points four times this season, with a high of 45 in a 48-45 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

The Lions, eighth in the league in time between offensive plays (27.6 seconds) want to go fast. The Giants, 24th at 30.0 seconds between snaps, want to go fairly slow.

The Giants have largely dictated the terms of how their games have been played this season. Can they do so again on Sunday?

Aidan and Kayvon

Edge defender Aidan Hutchinson was drafted No. 2 overall by the Lions. Kayvon Thibodeaux was drafted No. 5 by the Giants. In the buildup to a draft that saw the Jacksonville Jaguars take edge defender Travon Walker No. 1 overall, the pre-draft debate over who was the best edge rusher was often between Hutchinson and Thibodeaux.

Thibodeaux has been good for the Giants. To this point, though, Hutchinson has been the more productive player. Here are some of the numbers — with the caveat that Hutchinson has played nine games while Thibodeaux has played in only seven.

Sacks — Hutchinson 5.5; Thibodeaux 1
QB hits — Hutchinson 10; Thibodeaux 3
Total pressures — Hutchinson 15; Thibodeaux 7
Passes defensed — Thibodeaux 3; Hutchinson 1
Forced fumbles — Thibodeaux 1; Hutchinson 0
Tackles for loss — Hutchinson 4; Thibodeaux 0
Pass rush productivity (per Pro Football Focus) — Hutchinson has a sack, hit or hurry on 6.1 percent of pass-rushing snaps; Thibodeaux on 4.5 percent of snaps
Overall PFF grade — Hutchinson 66.8; Thibodeaux 65.3

Two things of note to keep in mind when comparing these numbers. Hutchinson has rushed the passer 278 times (96.2 percent of pass plays). Thibodeaux has rushed the passer 199 times (86.1 percent of the pass plays he has been on the field for).

I am not drawing any conclusions about which player is better halfway through their rookie seasons. I just thought that with both on the field Sunday it was a noteworthy comparison, and something to watch.

What will happen with Kenny Golladay?

The Giants benched wide receiver Kenny Golladay last Sunday after an awful dropped pass. Will he get another chance this week? Will he stand on the sideline and watch Darius Slayton, Isaiah Hodgins, and Wan’Dale Robinson play? Could Golladay and his four-year, $72-million contract be inactive against the Lions, the team he played for before becoming a Giant?

I’m interested in seeing if the Giants continue to give Golladay chances, or if they show an inclination this week to simply move on to players who are contributing more.

Special teams

I have a a couple of questions here.

First, will the Giants continue with cornerback Adoree’ Jackson as their primary punt returner. Jackson, handling punt returns for the first time since 2019 when he was with the Tennessee Titans, fielded all of his chances cleanly. He had just two yards on two attempted returns, though.

Second, I am beginning to wonder if punter Jamie Gillan could be on shaky ground as the Giants push toward a playoff berth. Gillan had a rough game against the Texans, and has been inconsistent.

Gillan is 31st in the NFL out of 32 punters with 15.7 percent of his punts going for touchbacks. He is 27th in kicks downed inside the 20-yard line at 28.2 percent. Gillan’s six touchbacks is tied with Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ rookie punter Jake Camarda for most in the league.

The Giants are 20th in the league in net yards per punt attempt at 40.9, with Gillan’s struggles to place the ball at times an issue.

With the Giants trying to play a conservative, grind-it-out style field position is a huge element of being successful that way. might Gillan’s inconsistency lead the Giants to look elsewhere?