In this edition of Cover 3, we discuss which Giants players to watch in the second half of the season, which begins on the road a week from tonight against the 49ers.
JOHN SCHMEELK: The player I’ll be watching closest in the second half off the season is tight end Evan Engram. After a productive rookie season when he had 64 catches and 722 yards for six touchdowns and an 11.3 average in 15 games, his numbers are down. So far in 2017, he has only 17 catches for 145 yards (8.5 yards per catch) and two touchdowns. Engram is a very talented receiver and has the potential to be the complementary big target down the middle of the field to help free things up for Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard. Some of the Cover 3 zones the Giants have been facing could be hurt by targeting the tight end down the seam between the defensive backs in deep zone.
According to Pro Football Focus, Engram had 11 drops on 108 targets in 2017, about a 10 percent drop rate. This year he has three drops on 25 targets, which is a 12 percent drop rate. Engram has soft hands, and there is no reason for him to have such an issue with dropped passes. His emergence as a weapon in the Giants’ passing game might not only help open things up for other players, but also give Eli Manning a reliable big target that he can go to in contested-catch situations. He would add another facet to an already explosive assortment of playmakers.
DAN SALOMONE: I’m going to watch the last Giant ever to wear the No. 10 jersey because, in his words, “you don't know how many more opportunities you have.” Appearing in his weekly radio spot with WFAN's Mike Francesa before the bye, Eli Manning said he tries not to think about the end of his tenure with the Giants – whenever that may be – but at the same time sees the big picture. The two-time Super Bowl MVP understands when you get to your 15th year and the team isn’t winning, you don’t know how many more games you get. “So you want to make the most of what you have,” he said.
Whether he gets one or eight more chances to try to right the 1-7 start, I’m going to be watching Manning because we don’t know what is on the other side. Time will tell. In the interview, Manning, whose team is 4-20 dating back to the Wild Card loss in Green Bay, was also asked how difficult it is to prepare in the face of losing. He said the most difficult part is directly in the wake of a loss, but once he gets into planning for the next opponent, it becomes easy to get up and excited all over again.
“It makes it tough when you're not winning games and you’re not scoring points and not doing everything we want to do,” Manning said. “But it’s not going change the effort and the dedication -- I know that. I'm going to do everything possible for the offense, for the team, for the coaches, for the fans, to go out there and change this season and get some wins.”
The Giants enter the Week 9 bye with a 1-7 record and half the season done. Heading into the second half of the season, here are the players to watch out for.
LANCE MEDOW: Throughout the first half of the season, I said multiple times how the Giants need a spark on special teams, specifically in the return game. Well, they may have found their answer in undrafted rookie Quadree Henderson, who was promoted from the practice squad on Oct. 22. In just two games, the former University of Pittsburgh standout has shown his knack for returning the ball. He’s averaging just over 22 yards per kickoff return (five returns for 112 yards), highlighted by a 30-yarder, and just under eight yards per punt return (six returns for 47 yards) with a long of 21. Henderson seems to have a great feel for what it takes to be successful in the return game, and that shouldn’t surprise anyone given his impressive numbers at Pitt.
While it’s easy to list a few offensive and defensive players to watch in the second half of the season, I suggest you pay attention to Henderson, who has a great opportunity to become the Giants’ main return man not just this season but for the future. Last week, special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey addressed the media and said Henderson is “a sure-handed guy, does a good job of catching the ball. He’s a good young player that has a lot of potential as a returner.” The Giants are clearly high on Henderson, and I’m interested to see what he can do in the second half.