New York Giants: 5 Players to Watch vs. Oakland Raiders

Patricia TrainaFeatured Columnist IVNovember 8, 2013

New York Giants: 5 Players to Watch vs. Oakland Raiders

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    The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

    As the old saying goes, “It’s no good crying over spilt milk.”

    That is exactly the perspective that New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin wants his team to take as it begins the second half of its 16-game schedule this Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.

    Coughlin, who doesn’t like to swell too much on the past other than to extract lessons that can help the team moving forward, knows that there are no do-overs in the NFL, which means the 2-6 body of work that his Giants put into the record books is here to stay.

    However, what he can focus on is getting his team to realize that despite their current win-loss record, they’re still very much in the hunt for the NFC East crown, a goal which is attainable if they take care of their business one game at a time in what has now become an eight-game season for them.

    “They’re very much aware of the circumstance we've put ourselves in and the importance of the final eight games of the year and the schedule now is an eight-game schedule, one game at a time, but the significance of which is great,” Coughlin told Giants.com senior writer/editor Michael Eisen. He also added:

    “They did come back focused and they came back rested. There’s no doubt how we've challenged them now. We have to have great focus, we have to have great concentration—no distractions. We have to give superb effort on the field and in the classroom, and we have to do it consistently day in and day out. And there’s nobody who can tell me that they can’t do it with this eight-game schedule.”

    Which players will need to step up in this, the first of a critical three-game homestretch for New York? Read on to find out.

Running Back Andre Brown

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    The weeks on Andre Brown’s countdown clock have dwindled down to a matter of hours before he takes the field for the first time in the 2013 regular season after finally recovering from a broken leg suffered in the preseason.

    “It’s going to be fun; I just can’t wait,” Brown said this week. “I haven’t been getting too much sleep because it’s like Christmas. I’m just really looking forward to going back out there and playing.”

    So is head coach Tom Coughlin.

    “Andre Brown—all I think about is when he played a year ago,” Coughlin said, referring to Brown’s 5.3 yards per carry and eight rushing touchdowns in a season that was also cut short by a broken leg.

    “I’m looking forward to the return of that player, quite frankly. Size, speed, he can catch the ball out of the backfield, he does a good job in pass protection. You sometimes forget that the guy is 230 pounds. That’s a little bit of a different dimension.”

    The question, though, is how much of a workload can Brown realistically handle in his first regular season in about a year.

    “Forty carries and 15 receptions. Run the kickoffs back. What else would you like?” Coughlin said with a smile when asked what was realistic for Brown’s 2013 debut.

    It probably won’t be that much, though Brown said he’s ready for whatever he’s needed to do and isn’t concerned about being rusty.

    “We’re going to get over that quick because we have to,” he said. “We’re professionals and we have to go out there and play ball. I feel like whatever they put me in I’m going to go out there and give it my best shot and make sure I make a play.”

Cornerback Trumaine McBride

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    If there had been any doubt about McBride’s exact role on the team, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell clarified it when he met with the media on Thursday.

    “I consider him a starter,” Fewell said of the sixth-year veteran. “I think he’s started two, three, four ball games for us and so it’s his job to lose.”

    Although he’s only listed at 5’9” and 185 pounds, McBride hasn't been shy about mixing it up with more physical receivers.

    McBride said he can’t do anything about his size, but what he can control is his approach to the game.

    “I do know that me being short, I have to put myself in the best position to be in,” McBride told Inside Football during training camp when he was battling to earn a roster spot.

    “With me, it’s always about technique, always about being in the best position I can be in. I have to play bigger than I really am. “

    He’s done just that. In three games started, McBride hasn't been attacked much by opposing offenses. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), McBride has only been thrown at 26 times, allowing 12 passes to be completed for 156 yards, 39 of which have come after the catch.

    While he hasn't yet picked off a pass, he has yet to surrender a touchdown and has two pass breakups, which ties him with Terrell Thomas and is half of what team leader Prince Amukamara has.

    With Fewell more committed to having a versatile defense that includes flip-flopping guys who were previously stationary players, it’s not certain that McBride will draw Raiders receiver Rod Streater for the entire game.

    Whoever McBride, who has been listed as "questionable" on the Giants' Friday injury report, does line up across from, you can expect him to put forth more physical play against his bigger adversaries.

Receiver Victor Cruz

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    Receiver Victor Cruz insists he’s going to be fine come Sunday when he takes the field for the first time since suffering a neck injury two weeks ago in the Giants win over the Eagles.

    While Cruz has done his best to downplay the injury to his neck that he suffered two weeks ago against the Eagles, there are several red flags that have popped up to leave one to believe that the injury is still a concern.

    The first sign was Cruz missing Wednesday’s practice after having participated in Monday’s session.

    “No concern, just some precautionary stuff,” he said afterward. “The training staff wanted me to take this one off and take another day to heal and get better and just feel better about myself. That’s all it was.”

    When Cruz did return to practice on Thursday, he was wearing a red jersey, normally reserved for quarterbacks. The red practice jersey designates a player that is not to be touched over the course of practice.

    “It’s an unusual situation,” head coach Tom Coughlin admitted of having a player other than a quarterback don that red jersey. But as to why the decision was made, Coughlin said, “So he can get through the practice and not have any setbacks, and I think we did that.”

    Cruz told Conor Orr of the Star-Ledger that he’s been feeling a “little discomfort” and “stiffness” in his neck, usually first thing in the morning.

    After practicing on Monday, he came in for his daily treatment on Tuesday, the players’ day off, and after advising the team’s training staff how he’s feeling, he said they ran some tests on his neck to arrive at the conclusion to hold him out of Wednesday’s practice.

    "It’s a matter of not wanting to re-tweak and kind of re-injure it again because it’s so easy to do that, especially in practice with the way I run my routes so aggressively in and out of the breaks," Cruz said. "So I don't want to do something stupid to re-injure it."

    Through it all, Cruz insisted that he didn't have a setback and that he would be ready to play on Sunday.

    Still, there appears to have been some concern within the team considering that Cruz is still experiencing symptoms two weeks after suffering the injury to where they felt it was necessary to assign him the red “no contact” jersey despite an environment where tackling has pretty much been eliminated in all aspects of the game preparation.

    If Cruz’s neck is still an issue, that could affect his ability to turn his head around to look for passes, especially on the deep balls. However, Cruz, who on Friday was back to wearing his white jersey in practice and who was listed as "probable" for Sunday, shrugged it off when asked if he had any concern about playing on Sunday.

    “No. No concern,” he said.

Defensive End Jason Pierre-Paul

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    Two weeks ago, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who is recovering from offseason back surgery, dashed the hopes of Giants fans who were hoping to see him return to his 2011 form this season by declaring that he wouldn't be completely healthy until next season.

    The good news is that after eight games, Pierre-Paul is that much closer to being that player he was in the Giants last Super Bowl season, a year in which he posted 16.5 sacks, the fourth-best total in the NFL.

    “I’m getting better and better,” he said on Wednesday. “I went out there and didn't think too much. I was bending the corner, I’m about to go in there and see what the coaches have to say. I was all over the field, so I’m pretty good.”

    Pierre-Paul credited the bye week for the extra pep in is step, and noted that this week was the best he’s felt all season.

    “Honestly, when it comes down to me I feel good,” he said. “I’m starting to build that confidence back in myself.”

    While he might not be 100 percent this year, he did offer an encouraging estimate as to where he thought he was in his recovery.

    “It’s been eight games and I would say I feel about 90 percent now,” he said.

    “For those eight games I’ve been playing how my back is going to take this, how it’s going to feel. I got to a point where I can’t think about that. I've got to go out and play the game. I can’t think about getting hurt.”

    That’s great news for a Giants pass rush that is going to need the old version of Pierre-Paul making plays both against the run and in pass-rushing if the Giants are to continue climbing out of the hole they dug for themselves with the 0-6 start.

    “I have to go out and play this game like I know I can,” he said. “I’ve been studying myself for the past couple of games and I’ve been doing pretty well. We’ll see how I do Sunday.”

Tight End Brandon Myers

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    It’s always extra special for a player when he gets to face his old team, especially when that old team didn't make an effort to re-sign that player.

    That’s exactly the situation that tight end Brandon Myers, who spent the first four seasons of his NFL career with the Oakland Raiders, finds himself in this Sunday.

    Myers, who, according to Over the Cap, signed a four-year contract with the Giants after posting a breakout 2012 season that saw him catch a career-high 79 receptions for 806 yards and four touchdowns, said this week that his parting with the Raiders, who did not offer him a contract to return, was amicable.

    “It is what it is,” he said, shrugging his shoulders when asked why the Raiders opted not to keep him after his big season last year in which he finished as the Raiders’ team leader in both receptions and receiving yards. “Both sides agreed on it.”

    While Myers hasn't been featured as prominently in the Giants offense so far—he has 23 receptions for 265 yards and one touchdown—that doesn't mean that his experience in his first season as a Giant has been any less enjoyable.

    “I found a place here that’s a great organization and coaches. The guys in the locker room are great and I’m happy to be here.”

    Still, he admitted that the lack of interest bothered him a little.

    “I think anybody would take it personally, but I’m happy with where I’m at,” he reiterated.

    It will be interesting to see if Myers, whose season high in receptions (seven) and receiving yards (74) came in Weeks 1 and 2 respectively, instead does his talking on the field. 

     

    Patricia Traina is the senior editor for Inside Football. All quotes and information obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Patricia on Twitter, @Patricia_Traina.