In this edition of “Cover 3” on Giants.com, we discuss what to look for heading into the season finale vs. Dallas:
JOHN SCHMEELK: Heading into the final game of the season, I think the Giants have established the way they want to play that gives them the best chance to win: run the ball, throw mostly off play-action to a bunch of different receivers, and win the turnover battle. It’s a formula that works.
So for the last game, I want to see if some of the young players can make some splash plays to tease the fans with something to look forward to next year. Lorenzo Carter continues to improve, and he got near the quarterback a couple of times against the Colts. I would like to see B.J. Hill continue to get consistent penetration inside and be disruptive in the pass game. How about a Grant Haley interception? He plays strong coverage, but it would be fun to see him get his hands on a ball. Sean Chandler has showed the ability to cover in the middle off the field, and it would be great to see him get some more snaps and chances to make some plays. Tae Davis may get another chance to start at inside linebacker and show he is learning the ins and outs of the position.
Offensively, Evan Engram continuing his late season surge would be great to see. He has been a big part of the offense in recent weeks and it should continue. After a midseason slump, Sterling Shepard blew up in the first half against the Colts. Another big game from him would be good to see. I would also like to see how the right side of the offensive line plays. There have been some stumbles in recent weeks, and both Jamon Brown and Chad Wheeler are trying to show the Giants hierarchy that they should be back as starters again next year. The game might not matter in the playoff picture, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty for fans to watch.
DAN SALOMONE: Unfortunately, the Giants don’t have the chance to play the role of Grinch and steal the postseason away from the Cowboys, who unwrapped their NFC East title hats on Sunday and kept the streak alive of no repeat champions in the division since the Eagles won four in a row in the early 2000s. That would have been a nice consolation present for Giants fans. However, if Pat Shurmur taught the fan base anything this year – whether they liked it or wanted a higher draft pick -- it’s that there is always something to play for in the NFL. Sunday is a chance to put a shiny red bow on it.
Shurmur, who took over a 3-13 team that had made the postseason just once since the 2011 championship season, is trying to teach the Giants how to win again, while general manager Dave Gettleman gives him the right pieces. The Giants’ top brass, which will hold another top-10 pick, have important decisions to make in the coming weeks and months. Players, meanwhile, have one more week to prove they are part of the answer. The Giants are 4-3 since the bye week and held sizable leads in two of those losses. They want to prove they are more like that team than the one that started the season 1-7. It might sound like lip service at this stage, but coaches are still learning about players, especially in losses. There is a growth process.
LANCE MEDOW: In all likelihood, the Cowboys won’t play the majority of their starters for long, or at all, in Sunday’s game against the Giants. Dallas has already won the NFC East and is locked into the fourth seed in the NFC playoffs. I only bring that up because Sunday’s game could have a preseason feel. That certainly doesn’t impact the Giants’ goals and mindset but for those that argue it will be a great forum to give young players more reps, etc., keep in mind they may not be tested against the number ones for Dallas.
For the Giants, the season finale should be all about building off the positives. Evan Engram has looked really good the last three games with at least 75 receiving yards in each contest. New York is moving him around within the offense and you’re starting to see more of that athleticism and explosiveness that defined his rookie year. That’s something to watch Sunday against the Cowboys, as well as the increased usage of Sterling Shepard within the offense, especially if Odell Beckham is sidelined once again. Although his numbers may not jump off the page in a fantasy football era, Shepard has quietly put together a solid season, especially in terms of blocking and making plays without the football. In Indianapolis, he posted his second 100-yard game of the season and was a big reason why the Giants were able to move the chains consistently in the first half.
Saquon Barkley is still within striking distance of a few more records. Although it’s unlikely he’ll finish as the league’s rushing leader or top the charts in scrimmage yards, Barkley is two receptions away from breaking Reggie Bush’s rookie running back receptions record (88 – 2006) and five away from breaking Odell Beckham’s Giants rookie receptions record (91- 2014). He also needs just one more game with at least 100 scrimmage yards to tie Eric Dickerson’s NFL rookie record of 13 in 1983.
From a defensive perspective, the Giants have been so reliant on takeaways this season. They’re 5-1 when they win the turnover battle but 0-9 when they lose or draw even in that category. The rationale behind that is takeaways and defensive touchdowns have covered up some of the issues on that side of the ball, such as stopping the run and getting after the quarterback. The regular season finale is a great opportunity for the Giants’ defense to finally put together that one performance where it’s not defined by takeaways.