The Giants begin the second half of their season on Monday against the Cowboys. Here are five questions facing them as they make the turn:
1. Can the Giants decrease the number of big plays allowed in the passing game?
The Giants have to figure out a way to prevent big plays through the air and get teams off the field on third down. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher played more man to man and blitzed frequently in the first two and a half games of the year, but he has since gone with more zone defense and blitzed less frequently. It is hard for a defense to survive when it gives up so many big plays. A defense can give up a lot of yards if it plays well in the red zone and prevents touchdowns, but big plays lead to scores outside of the red area. The Giants have to start making it tougher on opposing offenses. To win, nothing is more important than this.
2. Can the Giants get more a consistent pass rush?
The Giants are tied for 10th in the league with 22 sacks, but according to Pro Football Focus, the Giants' 27.6% pressure rate (the percent of plays they register a sack, quarterback hit or quarterback hurry) is the lowest in the NFL. According to PFF, the Giants have blitzed 86 times this year, which ranks 21st. Since Week 4, they rank 25th with just 39 blitzes. All of the teams ranked behind the Giants in blitzes had their bye week during that stretch of games, while the Giants have not.
So why not blitz more? According to PFF, when the Giants blitz, opposing quarterbacks are 51 of 74 for 771 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. They have eight sacks on those plays. Their blitzes have not worked. The Giants need to generate more pressure without blitzing, which is an area Leonard Williams, who has 70 quarterback hits over the course of his career, can upgrade.
3. Can the Giants win the turnover battle?
There is nothing in the NFL that is predictive of wins and losses more than the turnover battle. The Giants have won the turnover battle just once this season, in their loss against the Lions on Sunday. They have had two or more turnovers in six of their eight games and lost the turnover battle by two or more in half of their games. In the Giants' two wins, they were -1 and even in the turnover ratio.
The defense has done its part, tied for 17th in the league with 10 takeaways. The offense is the problem. The team has 19 giveaways, which leads the league: 10 lost fumbles, nine interceptions. Their -9 ratio is tied for 28th. The other teams with that ratio or worse are the Bengals, Browns, Falcons and Dolphins. Those teams have three combined wins.
4. What's the next step for Daniel Jones?
Daniel Jones has had the typical ups and downs of a rookie quarterback. Despite the downs, notably ball security, his results have put him ahead of the curve of other young quarterbacks around the league. Here are how quarterbacks drafted in the last two seasons rank in ESPN's QBR so far this season:
7th -- Lamar Jackson (66.7)
13th -- Kyler Murray (55.2)
15th -- Daniel Jones (53.2)
24th -- Gardner Minshew (46.8)
27th -- Baker Mayfield (39.6)
30th -- Sam Darnold (33.6)
31st -- Josh Allen (33.0)
Jones has shown he can throw the ball accurately with enough velocity to make all the throws. He sees the field well and gets the ball where it is supposed to go. The key thing to watch in the second half of the season is his decision making.
Jones has struggled protecting the football, which oftentimes comes back to decision making. He has eight fumbles this season, some of which can be attributed to him holding the ball in the pocket for too long. He is also an extremely aggressive passer. He has seven interceptions in six starts, and will sometimes try to fit the ball where there is not a lot of space.
The good news is that those are issues that are correctable with experience, and there is no reason to think Jones won't improve as he plays more games. As the season goes on, it will be important to see if the number of bad plays become less frequent, and the good plays come more often. Pat Shurmur has praised Jones for not repeating his mistakes and and that attribute will be key in the final eight games of the season.
5. Will the young players earn more playing time?
The Giants already have many members of their rookie class playing prominent roles. Dexter Lawrence and DeAndre Baker are starters. Oshane Ximines plays a big role as a situational rusher. Ryan Connelly started before getting injured. Darius Slayton started in Sterling Shepard's absence.
My eyes are on three players in the secondary: Corey Ballentine, Julian Love and Sam Beal, who is eligible to come off of IR. Love only has three snaps on defense all season, two of which came against the Lions last Sunday. With a secondary that is struggling, it bears watching if any of the three can earn minutes as the season progresses.
Ballentine played extremely well in the preseason. Beal was a third round pick in the 2018 supplemental draft. Love was a fourth round pick, but projected to go at least one round earlier. All three have talent, and we'll see if circumstances allow them the chance to display their abilities in the second half of the season.
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