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10 things to watch in Giants vs. Texans

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STARTING SECOND HALF STRONG

Coming out of the bye week, the Giants have nine games remaining on the schedule. They have an opportunity to begin the second half of the season on a strong note with back-to-back games at MetLife Stadium against struggling teams. The Giants will take on the Houston Texans and Detroit Lions over the next two weeks, with the two teams entering Week 10 with a combined record of 3-12-1.

"Important game. At home. Going to have to play well," Daboll told the media Tuesday. "Came off a bye. Feel like we're rested. The guys have had a lot of good energy here these last couple of days, and we need to go out there and have a good week like we do every week."

The last time we saw them take the field, the Giants fell to the Seahawks, 27-13, in Seattle. It was only their second loss of the season. The week after their first loss of the year, the Giants were able to rebound to beat the Chicago Bears, 20-12. Brian Daboll's squad is 3-1 playing in front of the home crowd.

ALL-TIME SERIES

Sunday's game will be just the sixth all-time meeting between the Giants and Texans. They faced off in the Texans' inaugural 2002 season, a game in which Houston emerged with a 16-14 victory. However, the Giants have picked up the victory in each of the last four contests, including their last meeting in 2018. The Giants traveled to Houston and beat the Texans, 27-22.

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INJURY REPORT

Giants

Out: TE Daniel Bellinger (eye), T Evan Neal (knee)

Questionable: CB Cor'Dale Flott (calf), WR Kenny Golladay (knee), OLB Oshane Ximines (quad)

Texans

Out: LB Neville Hewitt (hamstring)

Questionable: WR Brandin Cooks (wrist), DL Maliek Collins (chest), WR Nico Collins (groin), LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin (groin)

REPLACING McKINNEY

The Giants were dealt a tough injury blow when it was revealed that starting safety Xavier McKinney hurt his hand during the bye week. McKinney was placed on the reserve/non-football injury list Tuesday, which will force him to miss at least the next four games. But similar to when other players have gotten hurt this season, the Giants are embracing the "next man up" mentality.

Several players are looking at larger roles in the defense during McKinney's absence, starting with Julian Love. Love will wear the green dot for the foreseeable future, meaning he will receive the play calls from the sideline and relay them to the defense on the field. Wearing the green dot is obviously a significant role, and one that the fourth-year safety has earned. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale knows that Love is more than capable of thriving in this new role.

"I'm very comfortable with Julian – have been since day one with both those safeties (Love and McKinney)," the defensive coordinator said on Wednesday. "And they're both bright, young players that are going to have great careers. So, I'm excited for Julian to have this opportunity. He does a great job communicating on the back end, and I'm glad we have him."

Another player that will see more action now is Dane Belton. The rookie safety has totaled 19 tackles (15 solo), one tackle for loss, one QB hit, one pass defensed and two fumble recoveries in seven games this season, including two starts. Belton has impressed his defensive coordinator with his professionalism and approach to the game ever since he was drafted in the fourth round of this year's draft.

"He's a student of the game," said Martindale. "He takes it very serious as a profession. That's what jumps out at me. He's a really mature kid for being a rookie. I don't know if you all have had a chance to visit with him yet or not, but he's very quiet. You got to get him talking louder and things like that, but I just like how he approaches the game. The plays will come for him because he keeps doing the right thing. He's not an error repeater; he doesn't make the same mistake twice. I think as a rookie, he's ahead of the game."

Martindale also mentioned Jason Pinnock as a player that could see more playing time with McKinney sidelined. Pinnock, who was claimed off waivers from the Jets at the end of training camp, has one fumble recovery in five games this year.

GOLLADAY RETURNS TO PRACTICE

When the Giants took the practice field this week, a familiar face was out there with the rest of the wide receivers. Kenny Golladay returned to practice this week after missing the last four games with a knee injury. Golladay has caught just two passes for 22 yards this season, both of which came in the season opener. But the Giants' receiver corps looks a lot different than it did in Week 1, as Sterling Shepard was lost for the season due to an ACL injury while Kadarius Toney was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs. Mike Kafka has been impressed with what he's seen out of the veteran receiver and is glad to see him back on the field.

"Kenny came out yesterday, had a good day of practice," said the offensive coordinator. "Really, the standard for him and for every player is come out, practice hard, work on your techniques and assignments and then when your role is defined in the game, go out and execute…

"I think Kenny has done a good job. Kenny came in and he's been a great teammate. He's come in and worked hard when he's been practicing. I know he's gotten a little dinged up, so he worked his tail off to get ready for this week. We're happy that he's available."

"That's really my main goal, is to hit the ground running," Golladay said about his return. "I don't want to come in the game and act like I lost step as far as playbook wise, like I'm not mentally prepared. So, even when I wasn't playing, I was making sure I was mentally prepared the entire time as if I was playing. That's really my main goal, when I do get in there it's not like a fall off."

Golladay was a limited participant at practice this week and is listed as questionable on the final injury report.

WAN'DALE'S GROWING ROLE

Wan'Dale Robinson looked primed for a big role in the offense during training camp. A knee injury suffered in the season opener forced him to miss the next four games, but Robinson returned in Week 6 and caught three passes for 37 yards and a touchdown on just 15 snaps. The rookie played 69 percent of the offensive snaps in each of the next two games prior to the bye and finished with eight receptions for 65 yards during that stretch. Robinson could have an even bigger impact in the second half of the season.

"Wan'Dale is continuing to grow in the offense as a young player," offensive coordinator Mike Kafka said Wednesday. "He's doing all the right things in the classroom and getting on the same page with the quarterback. That's really important for a young guy and then learning how to be a pro. I think he's done a good job of that to date, and I think he'll continue to do that throughout this week."

The Giants did bring in one wide receiver prior to the bye week with the addition of Isaiah Hodgins, who was claimed off waivers from the Bills. Buffalo drafted Hodgins in the sixth round of the 2020 draft, and the 24-year-old went on to spend the last two-plus seasons there. He has plenty of experience with Brian Daboll and the offense, something that has helped him pick up the Giants' system pretty quickly.

"There's definitely a lot of familiarity with Isaiah in the offense and having some experience with that," Kafka said. "He's been great to come in and plug into the offense. There's a lot of familiarity for him offensively. There's some new things that we might have changed and just different verbiage, but he's handling that great. Again, today is another one of those big days as far as workload from a game plan standpoint."

GENERATING PRESSURE

The Giants did a good job of generating pressure against the Seahawks in Week 8. The team registered three sacks of Geno Smith and racked up 10 quarterback hits. Defensive lineman Leonard Williams had his best game of the season as he led the team with an impressive five quarterback hits and picked up one of the sacks. He also finished tied for the team-lead in total tackles with eight.

Williams will be leaned upon in the pass rush in Week 10, along with fellow defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence. The fourth-year DL is in the midst of his strongest overall season since entering the NFL in 2019. Lawrence already has four sacks, 11 quarterback hits and one forced fumble, all of which matches his previous career-high marks which came across 16 games. Lawrence has been the team's most effective pass rusher, as his four sacks are more than twice as many as anyone else while his 26 total pressures are nine more than Kayvon Thibodeaux, who ranks second on the unit with 17. Lawrence has been doing this while playing some of the highest snap totals of his young career.

The Texans have given up 19 sacks on the season, which is tied for 13th in the league. However, the numbers are a bit skewed. In three of their eight games, Texans QB Davis Mills was sacked just once apiece. But in the other five games, he was taken down at least three times. Houston has allowed six total sacks in the last two games, losses to the Eagles and Titans.

ESTABLISHING THE RUN

Saquon Barkley has been nothing short of outstanding this season. Heading into Week 10, Barkley ranks third in the NFL in both rushing yards (779) and total yards from scrimmage (968). His 97.4 rushing yards per game would easily top his previous career-high of 81.7, set in his Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign in 2018. His 4.8 yards per carry would also be his highest rushing average since his rookie season. Barkley's 28 receptions are the most on the team, while his 189 receiving yards ranks third.

One of the most impressive parts about Barkley's season has been his ability to stay on the field. During the Week 5 matchup against the Packers in London, the fifth-year back briefly left the game due to a shoulder injury. However, he returned in the fourth quarter and ended up scoring the game-winning touchdown. Outside of that game, Barkley has played at least 80 percent of the team's offensive snaps every week. Even in the game briefly departed, he still played 69 percent of the snaps. Barkley entered the season with a clean bill of health and it's shown in his performance.

Barkley is now faced with perhaps his most appetizing matchup of the year. The Texans rank last in the league in rushing yards allowed at 180.6 yards per game. Their 12 rushing scores allowed is tied for 28th, while their 5.5 yards per carry average ranks 30th. Houston has allowed 135+ yards on the ground in seven of their eight games, including two games in which they allowed over 280 rushing yards. Despite Houston's struggles, Daboll knows there is talent along the Texans' front seven.

"They have some good veteran players on the defense in particular," said Daboll. "(Defensive lineman) Jerry Hughes is a guy that I'm familiar with at Buffalo, and he's playing at a high, high level right now, which I'm not surprised with. (Defensive lineman) Mario Addison is back there; (linebacker Christian) Kirksey (is back there.) They've got a lot of players. They're competitive, and we're going to need to be at our best."

PIERCE 'ANGRIEST RUNNER IN THE LEAGUE'

Without a doubt, the brightest spot of the Texans' 2022 season has been the play of running back Dameon Pierce. The rookie won the starting job out of training camp and has started every game. Pierce has carried the ball 148 times for 678 yards, good for an average of 4.6 yards per carry, and three touchdowns. He has also played a solid role in the passing game as his 20 receptions are the third-most on the team, totaling 98 yards and an additional receiving touchdown.

It was Pierce's performance last week that kept the Texans in the game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The rookie toted the ball a season-high 27 times for 139 yards (5.2 avg.). But his stats were even more impressive than the box score indicates. Of his 139 yards, 102 came after contact. He was able to break nine tackles against the Eagles' staunch defense, which brought his season total up to 50, the third-most in the NFL.

"I don't know who said something to him or did something to him to make him so angry, but that might be the angriest runner in the league," Martindale said. "He is, I'll give you my comparisons again: Old, old school, Earl Campbell, Jamal Lewis. (Pierce is) one of those big power backs that has great balance. Runs mad every time he touches it. Has quick feet. It's going to be (a) tough assignment."

This weekend's matchup will be the second consecutive game in which the Giants face off against a top rookie running back. The unit did a good job of slowing down Seahawks RB Kenneth Walker in Week 8, holding him to just 51 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. His scoring run went for 16 yards, and if you were to remove that one run from his final stats, Walker's average yards per carry would have finished at 2.1.

SCOUTING REST OF TEXANS

Second-year quarterback Davis Mills has completed 62.8 percent of his passes this season for 1,656 yards (207.0 yards per game), 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions, good for a passer rating of 81.2. In last week's loss to the Eagles, Mills threw for 154 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions and was sacked three times. Mills is not much of a threat on the ground, picking up just 28 yards on 12 carries this season.

Joining Pierce in the backfield is veteran Rex Burkhead, who has carried the ball only 23 times for 81 yards. However, he has made an impact in the passing game with his 25 receptions, ranking second on the team. He's gained 131 yards and scored a touchdown through the air.

The team's leading wide receiver is Brandin Cooks. The veteran has pulled in 32 passes for 354 yards and a score, but did not appear in last week's game. He returned to practice this week, as did second-year receiver Nico Collins. Collins last played in Week 7 and in his six games has caught 18 passes for 305 yards, which rank second on the Texans.

Moving over to the defense, Jerry Hughes has put together an impressive first half of the season. The veteran defensive lineman leads the team with seven sacks and has also forced a fumble and intercepted a pass. Ranking second on the defense with 3.5 sacks is defensive lineman Rasheem Green.

The Texans have some talented young playmakers in the defensive backfield. Cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. was the third overall pick in this year's draft and has picked up an interception and five pass breakups thus far. Rookie second-round pick Jalen Pitre has also had a solid start to his career. The young safety leads the team with two interceptions and is tied with veteran linebacker Christian Kirksey for the second-most total tackles (57).

View rare photos of the all-time history between the New York Giants and Houston Texans.

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