What Can New York Giants Do to Salvage 2017 Season?
While not much is expected from the 1-6 Giants for the rest of this year, the hope inside the locker room is that they can at least be competitive enough in these remaining games to build momentum and string together some wins.
For that to happen, however, the Giants are going to need to pick up their performance in a lot of areas.
Get More Production from Their Receivers
Coming into the 2017 season, the Giants' wide receiver group was supposed to be a strength of the team.
That, however, was when they had Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard all healthy and primed to catch passes from quarterback Eli Manning.
As rotten luck would have it, Beckham and Marshall suffered season-ending injuries in Week 5.
Shepard has also missed the last two games with a sprained ankle, though he said before the team went on the bye week that he was optimistic of being ready to return. That's assuming he had no further setbacks in practice, as he did before the bye week.
Shepard's return would give the Giants a much-needed boost. He has 22 receptions for 263 yards and a touchdown and can work in tandem with tight end Evan Engram, who is the team leader in receptions (30), receiving yards (342) and who is tied for receiving touchdowns (three) with Beckham.
But it sure would help the Giants even more if they could get additional production from the rest of their receiving corps (Roger Lewis, Travis Rudolph, Ed Eagan and Tavarres King) who have 169 receiving yards on 15 catches with just one touchdown combined.
Leave the Offensive Line Alone
At some point, Giants center Weston Richburg, who has missed the last three games due to a concussion, should be cleared to go.
When that happens, however, the Giants might want to think twice about upsetting the current offensive line configuration, which consists of left tackle Ereck Flowers, left guard John Jerry, center Brett Jones, right guard D.J. Fluker and right tackle Justin Pugh.
First, it seems like every time the Giants have to make a change on the offensive line, instead of a one-for-one swap, they end up changing out two guys, which disrupts continuity.
Second, Jones has been playing well at center, with nary a snafu on the offensive line.
The Giants running game, for what it's worth, has averaged 4.7 yards per attempt with Richburg out of the lineup after a previous mark of 3.75 yards per carry, according to numbers generated from NFL Savant.
"I think obviously Brett prepares very well," head coach Ben McAdoo said when asked if Jones has given the team anything in the run game. "He's a smart player. He's cerebral. Studies the game. He's physical. Plays with good pad level, and he has some thickness to him and he finishes."
This is not to suggest that Richburg is the sole reason for the running game's early-season woes—you have to factor in the change in the backfield from Paul Perkins to more of Orleans Darkwa and Wayne Gallman, the benching of Bobby Hart and the insertion of D.J. Fluker into the lineup as well.
But as the old saying does: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Stick with the Running Game
Speaking of the running game, the Giants' offensive brain trust needs to get it through their heads that a balanced offense will improve your chances of winning games.
That's the formula the Giants used in their lone win of the season (a 23-10 triumph over the Denver Broncos in Week 5). The Giants ran the ball 32 times—against the NFL's top-ranked run defense at the time—and attempted 19 passes.
In their last game, a 24-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the Giants went right back to their "jam the pass down the opponent's throat" ways. Despite being down 10-7 at the end of the third quarter, the Giants finished the game with 17 rushing attempts and 39 passing attempts.
The Giants don't seem to think twice about sticking with the passing game, even if it's not firing on all cylinders, yet the coaching staff seems quicker to give up on the running game when that's not working.
Is it a matter of the coaches not being able to adjust? Or is there some other underlying reason for the Giants decision to quickly pull the plug on the running game?
Whatever the reason, it might be time to re-examine those circumstances and make a more solid effort to be a more balanced offense, especially when the games are still close.
Get More Turnovers
Another major factor missing from this year has been the number of takeaways by the defense.
In seven games, the Giants have seven takeaways (three interceptions and four fumble recoveries). At this rate, they're on pace to average one takeaway per game.
Last year, the Giants defense came up with 17 interceptions and eight fumble recoveries.
The decline in the number of interceptions is particularly alarming. The Giants are on pace to finish this year with just seven interceptions, which represents a sharp decline in productivity from a year ago.
In addition, three players—Landon Collins, Darian Thompson and Janoris Jenkins—are tied for the team lead in interceptions with one apiece. Corners Eli Apple and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who last year combined for seven interceptions, have yet to pick off a pass this year.
The defense obviously can't be expected to win every game for this team, but it does need to do a better job coming up with the football when opportunities are there.
Turn Up the Heat on the Pass Rush
The Giants pass rush has also struggled to get going, though to be fair here, their missing Olivier Vernon for the last three-and-a-half games with an ankle injury hasn't helped matters.
In 2016, the Giants finished with 35 sacks and 85 quarterback hits. This year, they have 13 sacks and 32 quarterback hits, which puts them on pace to finish under their 2016 production in both categories.
Again, the absence of Vernon from the lineup hasn't helped after he led the team in sacks (8.5) and quarterback hits (23) last season.
Since Vernon signed with the Giants in 2016, he and Jason Pierre-Paul have yet to make it through a 16-game season together thanks to injuries, something that needs to be considered when evaluating this statistic.
Still, if the mantra is next man up, the Giants have fallen way short of delivering the goods so far this year, and that needs to change for the rest of this season.
Solve the Opposing Tight End Riddle
In seven games, tight ends have scored eight times against the Giants defense. That's simply not acceptable.
Part of the reason has been inconsistency with jamming the tight end off the line of scrimmage, thereby giving him a free release. The defense is also more intent on keeping things in front of them, so they're more willing to give up the underneath stuff.
Regardless of the reason, this defense better figure out a way to break this trend if it hopes to start winning more games.
Patricia Traina covers the New York Giants for Inside Football, the Journal Inquirer and Sports Xchange. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.