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Cover 3: Insights at the quarter pole

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Following Sunday’s loss to the Saints, the 1-3 Giants are at the quarter pole of their 2018 campaign. In this week’s “Cover 3” on Giants.com, we assess the team heading into the second quarter of the season, which begins with a road trip to Carolina in Week 5.

JOHN SCHMEELK: This is tough for me. The first four games of the season have all been fairly unique, so it is hard to narrow it down to just one takeaway, but I will try. I have thoughts about every aspect of the team. I think this team’s defense is good enough to keep the Giants in games even if the offense isn’t scoring the way it would hope. I think the offensive line is a better than it was at the start of the year, and better than it was in 2017. I’m nearly positive that Saquon Barkley is going to be one of the best running backs in the league for the foreseeable future. I don’t know what to think about the passing game.

Here’s one thing I do know: I still have a lot to learn and figure out about this team. This is not a finished product. For most teams, a quarter of a season is enough to know what you have but for a team with only 23 players remaining from last year’s roster and a brand new coaching staff, I’m not there yet. The Giants are still figuring out exactly what they are and how they play best on both sides of the ball, and the rest of the league is trying to figure out how to play them. I said on “Big Blue Kickoff Live” that I thought I would have a better clue after six games, and I still think that’s the case. We’ll learn a lot against two strong defenses and athletic, mobile quarterbacks the next 10 days versus the Panthers and Eagles. But what if the team pulls a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? If it does, then it might take until the bye week. The players are learning the scheme, the coaches are learning their players, and sometimes it takes some time to put all the puzzle pieces together. We’ll see when that finally happens.

DAN SALOMONE: Like how Adrian Peterson blew up the timetable for an ACL return among NFL players, Dave Gettleman set the bar high for general managers with what he did in Carolina. In 2013, his first season as the Panthers’ general manager, the team went 12-4 after winning a total of 15 games the previous three years combined. If you want to look at the sunny side of things, you can point to how the Panthers that year also started 1-3 (first win was also in a Week 3 game against, yes, the Giants) before going 11-1 the rest of the way. That doesn’t mean a whole lot for the 2018 Giants other than that these things take time. Look, this was a 3-13 team last year for reasons other than injuries. There is no magic wand for that.

What you’re seeing now is one step forward and one back, sometimes two. How long that continues is to be determined. The first four games are an extension of the preseason these days, but that doesn’t mean they count any less. Pat Shurmur’s M.O. coming in was tailoring schemes to players, not the other way around. Doing so takes time. For example, the head coach, who is also the offensive play-caller, admitted in the wake of the Saints game that he didn’t give enough carries to Saquon Barkley. You can bet that will be corrected as this team continues to evolve.

LANCE MEDOW: Following the Giants’ 33-18 loss to the Saints on Sunday, Pat Shurmur was told his offense had not scored 20 points in three of the first four games of the season. His response: “We need to score more points.” That sums up the biggest takeaway from the first quarter of the season. The Giants are averaging just 18.2 points per game. That puts them 29th in the NFL, meaning just three teams in the league are averaging less than them. And to no surprise, like the Giants, all three of those teams (Cowboys, Bills, Cardinals) don’t have winning records. So why the struggle to score points? Well, there are a number of factors. Penalties, dropped passes and turnovers have stalled drives which is why the team has scored only seven touchdowns in four games. 

Regardless of how well your defense plays, it’s impossible to win games in the NFL consistently when you average fewer than 20 points. The Saints, whom the Giants just played in Week 4, are averaging just over 34 points per game, nearly double the Giants. That’s a big reason why their record (3-1) is the complete opposite of the Giants. While you can argue Big Blue’s defense has kept games within striking distance, that unit needs to find a way to get more pressure on the quarterback, which could create more opportunities for takeaways. The Giants have collected just three takeaways in four games, whereas the team has turned the ball over five times. When your offense averages less than 20 points and your turnover differential is minus-two, there is no margin for error. A quarter of the way through the season, those factors have been too difficult to overcome.

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