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5 questions facing Giants for the home stretch

Posted Nov 18, 2015

Giants.com explores five questions facing the team in the final six games

Ten down. Six to go.

Despite the last-second loss to New England, the New York Giants entered their bye week with a 5-5 record and the lead in the NFC East race. When they come out, the Giants jump right back into a divisional rivalry against the Washington Redskins.

Three of their remaining opponents have winning records, including the undefeated Carolina Panthers.

The remainder of the Giants schedule is: at Washington (4-5), vs. NY Jets (5-4), at Miami (4-5), vs. Carolina (9-0), at Minnesota (7-2) and vs. Philadelphia (4-5).

With that in mind, here are five questions facing the Giants as they prepare for the home stretch:

1. How much can Hakeem Nicks contribute?

Following their one-point loss to the undefeated Patriots on Sunday, the Giants both lost and gained a key wide receiver from the 2011 championship team. Victor Cruz was placed on injured reserve with a torn calf muscle, ending his second-straight season due to injury. Hakeem Nicks, who owns the second-most prolific postseason run for a wide receiver in NFL history, returned to the team that originally drafted him with the 29th overall pick in 2009. While Nicks has not played since the AFC Championship Game with the Colts this past January, he comes back to a Giants team that is No. 4 in scoring (27.3 points per game) and No. 10 in passing (261.9 yards per game) under second-year offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo.

“It’s not a bye week for me,” said Nicks, who is ninth in franchise history in receptions (311) and yards (4,622). “I’ve got to make sure I’m getting these plays down, so I can be ready to go come game time. It’s just going to take some studying, hard work and determination. I’ve got plenty of that.”

2. Has the pass rush turned the corner with JPP?

General manager Jerry Reese admitted that he was even “a little bit surprised” by Jason Pierre-Paul’s impact in the defensive end’s first two games back. After recording two solo tackles and two quarterback hits in his return against Tampa Bay, Pierre-Paul deflected a pass and notched another quarterback hit against New England. Meanwhile, the Giants as a whole had three sacks in the Patriots game after having just nine in the previous nine outings.

“I think he’s got more to go, I really do,” coach Tom Coughlin said. “I think that was his second game, there was a little bit of progress there and I think he would speak to that. I think there’s much more that’s ahead.”

Added Pierre-Paul: “Each game, I’m getting better and better. This is only my second game, I’m ready for the next one.”

3. Can the defense finish?

Four of the Giants’ five losses this season have been decided by an average of a field goal or less, including one-point defeats at the hands of Dallas in Week 1 and New England in the last game before the bye. While the team surges in turnovers – the Giants are first in both takeaways (23) and turnover differential (plus-13) – the defense has allowed 100 points in the fourth quarter, the second-most in the NFL behind New Orleans (104).

“We can score points, our defense has given up a lot of yardage, but the defense has turned the ball over a lot,” Reese said. “We may be in the top two or three in the league in turnover ratio. So the defense has been getting the ball for the offense, the offense can score points. But again, it comes down to late in the game, you have to finish the game, you have to win the close games. Again, like I said, battle-hardened, battle scars and tough lessons from the first ten games and I expect us to learn from those things. And these last six games, be able to win those close games at the end.”

4. Who’s coming back?

Starting center Weston Richburg left in the second half of the Patriots game with a sprained ankle, but the team is hopeful he can return for the first game after the break in Washington. Meanwhile, cornerback Prince Amukamara made it clear that he will return for the stretch run after missing the last five games due to a partially torn pectoral muscle.

“I will be ready after the bye,” Amukamara said. “That was kind of the plan all along. We were looking at the fourth week, Buccaneers, seeing if I was going to be ready then. This game came and I still wasn’t ready, so it’s according to the original prognosis, which was three to six weeks and this was the fifth week. If we had a game next week, I would 100 percent be playing.”

5. What does the playoff race look like?

With six games to go, the Giants sit in the driver’s seat in the NFC East race, leading the Redskins and Eagles, who are both 4-5. Big Blue’s remaining schedule has three teams with winning records, including the 9-0 Panthers and 7-2 Vikings. The home stretch begins, however, with a road trip to Washington. The Giants currently own a five-game winning streak against the divisional rival, including a 32-21 victory at home in Week 3.

“We do lead the division and when we come back, we have a divisional game,” Coughlin said. “Hopefully we’ll use this time to rest and reflect a little bit and regroup and come back and finish strong and that’s what the whole break is for, for us to regroup, get healthy as best as we can and come back and give it a hard, hard shot for the final six games of the season.”