The New York Giants return from their bye week Sunday to host the 1-6-1 Houston Texans. The 6-2 Giants need a victory to get their second half of the season playoff push off to a good start.
Here are five things to watch this week.
Winning when they should win
The Giants are favored to beat the Texans this week, and will be favored to defeat the Detroit Lions next week. Those games, at home against the two teams with the worst records of any of the teams remaining on the Giants’ schedule, are ones they need to win as they try to make a surprising playoff push.
Coach Brian Daboll is focused on the Texans, not on the long term.
“I think we just live in the moment. Each week is its own week in the NFL, and you try to stack as many (wins) as you can together. And at the end of the year, wherever you’re at, you’re at,” Daboll said. “I think if you lose focus on what’s important, which is the only thing you can control, is today. And then go out there tomorrow and get ready to play a good team, that’s all you can control. If you get too far ahead of yourself, again, it brings you back to reality real quick.”
The Giants already won a couple of games most people thought they would lose this season. Let’s see if they can avoid stumbling during a stretch where oddsmakers will expect them to win.
However you feel about Xavier McKinney’s decision to go ATV/Can-Am riding in Mexico during the bye, resulting in an unfortunate accident that will sideline him for at least four weeks and perhaps longer, the Giants now have to replace the talented third-year safety.
We know that safety Julian Love will call defensive signals.
We know that the loss of McKinney will diminish the defense, and likely impact some of defensive coordinator Wink Martindale’s play-calling flexibility. We just don’t know how much.
“He’s [McKinney] a rising star in this league,” Love said on Tuesday. “It’s tough to replace.”
Head coach Brian Daboll said that “we have guys that can play, and we feel confident in,” to replace McKinney.
Dane Belton — The rookie fourth-round pick out of Iowa has played 199 defensive snaps over seven games, starting two. His game-to-game usage has varied wildly, playing more than 40 snaps some weeks but only 10 snaps in Week 8 vs. the Seattle Seahawks.
“Anytime I can play, I want to take full advantage of it,” Belton said. “It’s unfortunate what happened, but teams always say, ‘Next man up.’ So, I’m just going to want to do my job. Anything coach asks me to do, I’ll do it and try to give the team a win.”
Jason Pinnock — A fifth-round pick by the New York Jets in 2021, Pinnock was claimed on waivers by the Giants at the end of the preseason. He has played only one defensive snap in five games. He played 201 defensive snaps for the Jets in 12 games (two starts) for the Jets last season. The 6-foot, 205-pound 23-year-old had a solid 70.4 Pro Football Focus grade last season for the Jets.
Landon Collins — In his return to the Giants, the team’s team’s 2015 second-round pick, has played 30 snaps over two games as a practice squad elevation with one tackle. Collins was a 2016 All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler in his first stint with the Giants, but he isn’t that guy any longer. His last Pro Bowl season came in 2018. Still, the Giants have two open roster spots and it seems logical that Collins could fill one. His best role would seem to be as a box safety or hybrid linebacker, perhaps allowing Love or Belton to play the deep role.
Tony Jefferson — The veteran safety one-time signal caller for Martindale with the Baltimore Ravens is on IR with a foot injury. He played 36 snaps over three games before going on IR. He could figure into the rotation if and when he is able to return.
Filling open roster spots
With McKinney on the non-football injury list and defensive tackle Nick Williams (bicep) on season-ending injured reserve, the Giants have two spots to fill on their 53-man roster.
The guess here is that Collins gets one. The other? Perhaps a practice squad defensive lineman like Henry Mondeaux or Ryder Anderson. Perhaps even one of the three players who has been designated to return from IR or PUP — cornerback Rodarius Williams and offensive linemen Matt Peart and Shane Lemieux.
A role for Hodgins?
It seems pretty clear that the Giants expect wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins, claimed off waivers from the Buffalo Bills during the bye week, to have a role on offense.
Daboll, of course, was Bills’ offensive coordinator in 2020 when Buffalo drafted the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Hodgins in the sixth round.
Here is Daboll’s assessment of the newest Giants’ receiver:
“Big receiver. Good hands. Good quickness. Makes contested catches. Very, very smart. Really knows all four spots with being here for a day. So, we’ll see where he’s at. But really good mentality. Team-first player. Hard worker. Again, some of the stuff we do is a bit different. But he’s picked that up. So, we’ll see if he’s ready to go.”
The Giants are also expecting Kenny Golladay back in the wide receiver mix this week. Roles for players like Richie James and David Sills have already been decreasing, and with Hodgins and Golladay available it will be interesting to see how playing time is distributed.
Dealing with Dameon
The Giants have struggled all season to contain the run. They are 31st in the league, giving up 5.5 yards per rushing attempt, 25th in yards per game allowed rushing (137.3), and 27th in Expected Points Added (EPA) by the run defense (-19.14).
Rookie running back Dameon Pierce, a fourth-round pick by the Texans, is coming off a 27-carry, 139-yard performance against the Philadelphia Eagles. Pierce has 648 yards on 148 carries (4.6 yards per attempt) and is averaging 84.8 yards rushing per game.
If the Giants can be stout against the run, that will go a long way toward assuring them their seventh victory of the season.