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5 storylines to follow in Giants vs. Raiders


The Giants begin a three-game road trip this weekend as they travel to Las Vegas to take on the Raiders.

Week 8 ended in heartbreaking fashion for the Giants as they fell to the Jets, 13-10, in overtime. The Giants will look to bounce back and win their third game of the season this week as they travel to Allegiant Stadium for the first time since it opened in 2020.

The Raiders traveled to Detroit to take on the Lions on Monday Night Football this past week. Despite the defense forcing three turnovers, including a pick-six, the unit allowed 487 total yards of offense along with 26 points. On the other side of the ball, the offense wasn't able to muster much with eight points and just 157 yards as the Lions won the game, 26-14. The loss led to some significant changes within the organization, but more on that later.

Here are five storylines to follow in the Week 9 matchup in Vegas.

1. DJ's return

Coach Brian Daboll announced late Monday morning that quarterback Daniel Jones has been cleared for contact, paving the way for the starting quarterback to return under center for this weekend's game. Jones received clearance during pregame warmups Sunday, with doctors giving the quarterback the full go-ahead to fully participate in practice beginning on Wednesday.

Jones has missed the last three games due to a neck injury suffered in the fourth quarter of the Week 5 game in Miami. Despite returning to practice as a limited participant the last two weeks, Jones was inactive while backup Tyrod Taylor started in his place. Jones was a full participant at practice Wednesday as the head coach said he is good to go.

"He's been out here throwing so he'll have his full workload this week," Daboll said. "Once he's cleared, he's cleared and ready to go."

Jones' return comes at a good time, as backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor was knocked out of Sunday's game in the second quarter. The veteran quarterback ended up spending the night at Hackensack University Medical Center for further examination and testing, where it was determined he suffered an injury to his rib cage. He was released from HUMC early Monday afternoon.

Due to Taylor's injury, Tommy DeVito made his NFL debut against the Jets. 

With Taylor banged up, the Giants also added quarterback Matt Barkley to the practice squad Tuesday. Barkley was with the Bills from 2018-20 and played in eight regular-season games, including one start, while Daboll served as offensive coordinator. The veteran has played in 19 games in his career, but has not appeared in one in almost three years.

"Matt's had familiarity in what we do and understands our terminology," Daboll told the media. "Called a game, actually against the Jets I think, with Matt back in '18 or somewhere around there, pretty good result. But he's been around, he's been with us for a while, he knows our stuff."

View rare photos of the history between the Giants and Raiders ahead of their Week 9 matchup.

2. Defense stepping up

The Giants defense held the Jets to 13 points, 251 total yards of offense, 58 rushing yards and just 12 first downs on Sunday. The unit limited Breece Hall to a mere 17 yards on 12 carries (1.4 avg.), although the second-year running back was a big contributor in the passing game. The defense's two takeaways marked the third time they've forced multiple turnovers in the last four games.

Wink Martindale's unit has undoubtedly turned a corner over the last few weeks. After allowing 24 or more points in four of the first five games of the season, the defense has allowed an average of 11.3 points over the last three contests while keeping each opponent to 14 points or less. They have also kept all three of those opponents, and four of the last five, to under 300 yards of total offense. Additionally, after registering zero turnovers in the first four weeks of the season, the defense has at least one in each of the last four and eight takeaways total.

The pass rush has also taken a big step up in recent weeks, led by the emergence of Kayvon Thibodeaux. The second-year outside linebacker had his best game of the season against the Jets with three sacks, three tackles for loss, a forced fumble and nine total tackles (six solo). Thibodeaux is now tied with Cleveland's Myles Garrett and Pittsburgh's T.J. Watt for the third-most sacks in the NFL this year with 8.5, just 1.5 shy of Minnesota's Danielle Hunter for the league-lead. All of Thibodeaux's sacks have come in the last six weeks.

Also coming off his best game of the season is Dexter Lawrence. The All-Pro defensive lineman recorded one sack and five quarterback hits in Week 8, but his dominance goes beyond the traditional box score. Lawrence spent a large portion of Sunday's game in the Jets' backfield as he totaled an impressive 15 pressures. This tied the record for the most pressures in a single game by an interior defensive lineman. After a slow start to the year that saw him register zero sacks, five quarterback hits and 21 total pressures through the first six weeks of the season, Lawrence has been on a roll over the last two games. During that span, the lineman has picked up three sacks, nine quarterback hits and 23 total pressures. His 44 pressures on the season is tied with San Francisco's Nick Bosa for the third-most in the NFL.

3. O-line growth

Rookie center John Michael Schmitz made his return to the field this past Sunday after missing the previous three games with a shoulder injury. With Schmitz back in the starting lineup, the Giants used their seventh different starting offensive line combination of the season. The Giants did not attempt to throw the ball that much against the Jets, but on 26 pass block snaps, Schmitz surrendered just one pressure, according to Pro Football Focus.

"Honestly, I just saw the growth," Schmitz said about the difference between the line from when he last played. "Especially the couple of weeks I've been out, I saw the growth of the O-line and kind of just the camaraderie coming together, guys being way more focused and locked in. I would just say the intent to detail each and every week, coming in with the mindset that we can do it."

After a tumultuous start to the season, the offensive line has shown some improvement in recent weeks. A big part of that has been influenced by the addition of Justin Pugh. The veteran lineman went "straight off the couch" to the starting lineup and has performed admirably. Pugh had his best game in pass protection this past weekend, as he allowed just two pressures on 26 pass block snaps.

"He's been a tremendous addition to the room," Schmitz said of Pugh. "Not only with just helping us out with being in the league for so long, just the way he goes through the week, his routines. If it's kind of just a little advice, it doesn't even have to be on the field, but off the field. I think he's been a tremendous addition to the room."

While continuity on the O-line is important, the Giants hope to use their eighth different starter combination this Sunday in Las Vegas, with the possible return of starting left tackle Andrew Thomas. The All-Pro tackle hasn't played since Week 1 because of a hamstring injury, but was able to practice every day last week, albeit as a limited participant. Thomas was back on the practice field Wednesday, as was starting right tackle Evan Neal. Neal has missed the last two games with an ankle injury, but was listed as a limited participant in practice every day last week. The head coach said both tackles have a shot to play this weekend.

"I think both of them have an opportunity to play," Daboll said about Thomas and Neal. "Again, we'll take that day by day and see where they are on Friday."

4. Latest on offensive playmakers

In addition to Taylor, the other Giant to go down with an injury on Sunday was tight end Darren Waller. The 31-year-old was on the injury report with a hamstring injury throughout the week, but was active for the Week 8 matchup. Waller caught one pass for four yards before leaving the game due to the hamstring injury.

The veteran tight end has started every game for the Giants so far this season and leads the team with 36 receptions for 384 yards. He put together his best game of the year against the Commanders in Week 7, catching seven passes for 98 yards and his first touchdown of the season. Daboll told the media it's too early to tell if Waller will be able to suit up for this weekend's game in Las Vegas.

"Waller's got a hamstring; we'll see where he's at," the head coach said. "He's not going to go today; we'll take him day by day, but you never know how hamstrings are, so we'll see where he's at by the end of the week."

Speaking of playmakers, Saquon Barkley is coming off his highest yardage total of the season. The sixth-year running back ran for 128 yards on a career-high 36 rush attempts. It was his first time topping the 100-yard rushing mark since Week 10 last year when he ran for 152 yards on 35 carries, which at the time was the highest carry total of his career.

Barkley's performance earned him a nomination for the FedEx Ground Player of the Week, and he now gets an opportunity for another strong outing this Sunday. The Raiders enter this matchup ranking 30th in rushing yards, 26th in yards per attempt and 28th in rushing touchdowns allowed this season. The Lions ran for 222 yards against the Raiders on Monday, marking the second consecutive week in which the defense allowed over 170 yards on the ground.

5. Scouting the Raiders

The Raiders made a big change this week, relieving head coach Josh McDaniels and general manager David Ziegler of their duties as head coach and general manager, respectively. While Champ Kelly was named the interim general manager, someone very familiar to Giants fans was named the team's interim head coach - former linebacker and team captain Antonio Pierce. The former Giants linebacker and team captain will lead the team for the remainder of the season before the Raiders undergo "a comprehensive search for a head coach once the season is complete."

The Raiders offense has struggled this season, topping the 20-point mark just once in eight games (21 points vs. Patriots in Week 6). Coming off their 14-point, 157-yard performance against the Lions on Monday Night Football, the Raiders now rank 30th in points and 31st in yards this season. Additionally, Las Vegas' 16 turnovers are tied for the second-most in the league.

The changes carried over to the field, as well. Pierce announced Wednesday afternoon that rookie quarterback Aidan O'Connell is the team's starting quarterback moving forward. In his only start this season, O'Connell completed 61.5 percent of his passes (24 of 39) for 238 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. He did add a touchdown on the ground.

The top target in the passing game is Davante Adams, who leads the team with 47 receptions for 539 yards while scoring three touchdowns. However, the elite wide receiver has topped the 50-yard mark just once in his last four games. Adams' running mate, Jakobi Meyers, is not far behind him with 38 receptions for 404 yards and a team-high five touchdowns.

Running back Josh Jacobs led the NFL with 1,653 rushing yards and 2,053 yards from scrimmage last season. While off to a slow start this year, Jacobs is coming off his most efficient outing of the season. The 25-year-old averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry for the first time in 2023, carrying the ball 15 times for 61 yards and a touchdown and adding two receptions for 27 yards.

The Raiders defense starts on the edge with the talented Maxx Crosby. The fifth-year defensive end leads the team with 6.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss and 10 quarterback hits, all of which are significantly more than anyone else on the Raiders defense. Crosby had 12.5 sacks and a league-high 22 tackles for loss in 2022 on his way to his second consecutive Pro Bowl selection.

Linebacker Robert Spillane has a team-high 65 tackles (34 solo) on the season along with two interceptions. Safety Tre'von Moehrig is tied with Spillane for the team-lead with two interceptions himself. Moehrig is also tied for the most passes defensed on the team with four, tying cornerback Marcus Peters. The veteran cornerback had the play of the game for the Raiders in Week 8 with his pick-six against the Lions.


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