There is only one storyline that matters for the New York Giants in Week 4. Can they beat the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night to even their record at 2-2? With road games coming against the powerful Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills in Weeks 5 and 6, a victory would allow the Giants to avoid the specter of a disastrous 1-5 start.
A loss would increase the questions about a team that won a playoff game a year ago and approached this season with heightened expectations.
Neither the offense nor the defense has distinguished themselves thus far this season.
The Giants rank 31st in points scored and 30th in points allowed. They have played two good quarters of offensive football out of 12. On defense, they have played one good quarter out of 12.
They have been outscored 63-6 in the first half of games. Only the Chicago Bears (-59) have a worse point differential than the Giants (-55). Even the 0-3 Denver Broncos (-53), who gave up 70 points to the Miami Dolphins have a slightly better point differential than the Giants.
Yes, the Giants’ two losses have come against two of the best teams in the NFC in the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers. Yes, it is fair to look at the start of the season and say that the odds were a 1-2 start is what the Giants were destined for considering the caliber of competition.
Yet, the non-competitive loss to the Cowboys, the overall lack of urgency and physicality, and the overall poor quality of play in all phases of the game thus far are alarming for a team that won a playoff game a season ago and fancies itself as a contender to get back into the postseason this season.
Whether or not the Giants can play a complete, or mostly complete, game and beat a good Seattle team in a game they have to win with road games coming up next against the Dolphins and Buffalo Bills is the major storyline this week.
There are, though, sub-plots. Here are some of them.
Will Saquon Barkley play?
The Giants’ star running back suffered a high ankle sprain near the end of the Week 2 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. When Barkley suffered a high ankle sprain in 2019 he missed three games and played about a half-dozen others at less than 100%. When he suffered an ankle injury in 2021 he missed four games and had just one 100+-yard rushing game in the final eight in which he did play.
The Giants are calling Barkley “day-to-day” and leaving open the possibility he could play Monday against Seattle. That would be just 15 days after his latest injury. Maybe he will play, but history tells us even if he does he is unlikely to be anywhere fully healthy, and anywhere near the fully explosive game-changer the Giants need him to be.
Return of Julian Love
There are still Giants fans who don’t understand why Love is with the Seahawks rather than back with the Giants. The 2019 fourth-round pick left the Giants as a free agent last offseason even though there were reports the Giants offered more money than Seattle.
Love has been replaced in the Giants’ defensive backfield by Jason Pinnock, a more athletic player who fits Wink Martindale’s blitz-heavy schemes.
Would Love be helping the Giants’ defense? Maybe, but one of the primary issues thus far has been tackling. While Pinnock has missed an unacceptable 20% of his 30 tackle attempts, Love hasn’t been much better. He has missed five of 31 tackle attempts, 16.7%.
It will be odd to see Love, a popular player in the locker room and the fan base, playing for the Seahawks. His absence, though, is not the reason for the Giants’ poor defensive play thus far.
The shape-shifting offensive line
The Giants might finally be on the verge of getting some stability along their beleaguered offensive line.
Star left tackle Andrew Thomas (hamstring) and starting left guard Ben Bredeson (concussion) are not at this point guaranteed to play Monday night, but both appear on track to do so. That would settle what has been a makeshift left side of the line the past two-plus games.
On the right side, the Giants appear committed for the time being to second-year players Marcus McKethan at right guard and Evan Neal at right tackle.
Neal, the 2022 No. 7 overall pick has not been good over the first three games. He has, though, been somewhat better since allowing eight pressures in Week 1. He has allowed just five and has not been charged with allowing a sack, over the past two games. Perhaps if McKethan settles in at right guard that will also help Neal.
McKethan, a 2022 fifth-round pick, missed all of last season with a torn ACL. He played just 20 preseason snaps this summer. At 6-foot-7, 335 pounds he is a powerful young player trying to acclimate to blocking NFL defensive tackles. McKethan has had one good game and one poor one. The Giants are intrigued enough to extend his audition.
Will the stars come out?
Aside from defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, the play of the Giants’ supposed star players has left much to be desired through the first three games.
Barkley is averaging just 3.9 yards per carry, does not yet have a run longer than 18 yards (the Giants have zero 20+-yard runs), and has cost Daniel Jones two interceptions with balls that slipped away from him.
Jones was brilliant in the second-half comeback vs. Arizona. Otherwise, he has been pedestrian. At best. Jones has had little chance much of the time due to the sieve-like nature of the offensive line, but he is on pace for 11.3 touchdown passes and 3,185 passing yards. Put the blame wherever you want, but those numbers are not good enough for a guy now paid like a franchise quarterback.
Tight end Darren Waller has 12 catches for 132 yards, a pace that would net him 68 receptions for 748 yards. Not bad, but not the game-changing impact the Giants were expecting when they traded for him.
Wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins has just five catches, four of those against the Cardinals, for 64 yards.
On defense, the only time anyone has been able to find safety Xavier McKinney has been when he has been getting trucked by opposing ball carriers.
We have discussed how Kayvon Thibodeaux has been used and whether or not he is getting enough opportunities. Regardless, the 2022 No. 5 overall pick has not taken advantage of the limited opportunities he has had. He hasn’t made enough (any?) impact plays in the first three games.
Leonard Williams has a half-sack, two quarterback hits, and only eight tackles thus far.
First-round pick Deonte Banks has been OK, but he has left two games about halfway through with injuries.
Azeez Ojulari, expected to form a dominant edge duo with Thibodeaux, has missed two games with his latest soft tissue injury. His availability for Monday is unknown.
Bobby Okereke, the Giants’ $40 million linebacker, was outstanding in the fourth quarter against the Cardinals. Otherwise, he has not played like a difference-maker.
The Giants need their best players to start playing like their best players.