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Giants vs. Bucs: 5 storylines to follow in Week 8

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The Giants suffered a tough loss in Week 7, falling to the Philadelphia Eagles, 22-21, on Thursday Night Football. The defense played well for about 55 minutes, allowing just one Eagles touchdown, before surrendering two touchdowns in the final few minutes.

The Giants (1-6) remain just 1.5 games behind the Eagles for the lead in the NFC East. However, a difficult challenge lies ahead as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to MetLife Stadium for a Monday night showdown.

The Bucs are coming off a strong 45-20 win over Raiders in Las Vegas last week. Tom Brady threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns while running for another touchdown, and may be playing some of his best football in recent years. Tampa Bay has won five of its last six games heading into this contest.

Here are five storylines to follow heading into the matchup.

Can DJ get the offense moving?

Daniel Jones enters Week 8 averaging just over 200 passing yards per game with five touchdowns and seven interceptions. But not all of that can be put on the shoulders of the second-year quarterback. Of the Giants' first seven opponents this season, six rank within the Top 8 in the NFL in fewest passing yards allowed, with Dallas coming in at No. 12. On top of that, five of the seven teams the Giants have faced rank within the top half of the league in interceptions.

After going four straight weeks without a passing touchdown, Jones has picked up his production over the last two games. He is averaging about 150 passing yards per game with three total touchdown passes over the last two weeks, but has excelled in the running game. Jones has led the team in rushing in two consecutive outings, with performances of 74 yards on seven rushes (10.6 yards per carry) and 94 yards on four carries (23.0 yards per carry). He currently ranks third among NFL quarterbacks in rushing yards this year, trailing only Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson.

"We have to continue to look at ourselves," Jones said after last week's loss. "We have to be critical of ourselves and improve every week. I think we've done that. I think the team that is playing now is a much different team than the one that started the season. We haven't gotten the results as consistently as we expect. We have to keep improving and keep pushing it forward. Keep progressing as a team. I think that has to be our mindset. It's the only way we are going to get better. I'm confident we have the guys to do it. We just have to stay at it."

Tampa Bay's pass defense ranks ninth in passing yards allowed (225.3 yards), eighth in passing touchdowns allowed (nine) and second in interceptions (nine). However, the unit is coming off a game in which Raiders quarterback Derek Carr completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 284 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. He ran twice for 19 yards.

Establishing the run

The Giants were struggling to get consistent production from their running backs following the season-ending injury to Saquon Barkley in Week 2. Then, Devonta Freeman was able to step up in Weeks 5-6, gaining 60+ yards in back to back games. During last week's game in Philadelphia, Freeman injured his ankle, limiting him to just eight yards on three carries. It was Freeman's lowest yardage total since joining the Giants.

Freeman began the practice week off to the side with trainers on Tuesday, putting his status against the Bucs up in the air. If the veteran is unable to suit up, Wayne Gallman likely would become the primary back. Following Freeman's injury last week, Gallman picked up 10 carries and was able to gain 34 yards and a touchdown while adding five receptions for 20 yards. Gallman has had several spot starts throughout his four-year career with the Giants, including last year against Washington in which he turned 24 total touches into 118 yards and two touchdowns.

"For me and my situation, I just come in and try to do my best when my number is called," Gallman told reporters earlier this week. "I just have to stay ready. That's really the big thing with me, staying ready staying locked into the game. Not trying to make it too big, but just sometimes, take the base hit and see what happens. Just playing smart."

The Buccaneers have the NFL's top rushing defense, allowing 66 yards per game and just 3.0 yards per carry. Tampa Bay has only allowed five rushing touchdowns, the second-lowest in the league. Over the last three weeks, the unit has held Josh Jacobs (10 carries for 17 yards), Aaron Jones (10 carries for 15 yards), and David Montgomery (10 carries for 29 yards) in check. 

Slowing down the G.O.A.T.

The Giants need no introduction to Tom Brady. Several players and coaches have plenty of close experience with the future Hall of Fame quarterback. Head coach Joe Judge spent eight seasons with Brady in New England, while defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski were with him for seven years apiece. In addition, Cameron Fleming spent four years protecting Brady, Dion Lewis caught passes from him for three seasons while Nate Ebner went up against him at practice every day for eight seasons.

After a slow start, Brady has picked up his game over the last few weeks. The 43-year-old quarterback has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 15-to-1 over the last five games, including three games with at least three passing touchdowns. Brady has also averaged 290.8 passing yards per game during that stretch and added a rushing touchdown during last week's win over the Raiders. In that game, Brady enjoyed his strongest performance of the season, completing over 73 percent of his passes for 369 yards and four touchdowns.

"This guy is clearly one of the best to ever play the game. He's playing at a very high level…" Judge said. "He has the guys around him playing at a high level as well. One thing about Tom is he's a very intelligent player. He thinks ahead of the play, he's always looking for answers, he's very proactive in how he sees the game, he understands the personnel on the other side extremely well. He's been in all of the situations, however you slice it up, as many times as you can possibly imagine, whether that's through practice or games. This guy is fluent in football."

The Giants' pass defense is coming off its worst performance of the season. Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz threw for 359 yards and two touchdowns last week while adding another score on the ground. The 359 passing yards were the most the unit has surrendered this year and just the second time the Giants allowed a team to throw for more than 280.

View rare photos from the all-time series between the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Limiting the pass-catchers

The Giants won't be facing Tampa Bay's full arsenal of offensive weapons. Receiver Chris Godwin had surgery this week to repair a broken finger and is not expected to play while the newly-signed Antonio Brown is not eligible to suit up until Week 9.

Mike Evans, however, has been one of the league's top wideouts for several years. Although an ankle injury has been bothering him all season, the veteran receiver has still managed to reel in six touchdown passes. Scotty Miller has at least 73 receiving yards in four games this season, and came up big against the Raiders (6-109, 1 TD). Finally, let's not forget about veteran tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has picked it up over the last two games, catching five passes in each contest with 140 total yards and two touchdowns.

"I've seen Scotty Miller quite a bit on tape," cornerback James Bradberry told reporters earlier this week. "Athletic, fast guy. He can take the top off a defense, so you definitely have to be on the lookout for him. Very explosive. They also have Mike Evans, Tom Brady, they have a good running back duo in the backfield. They have other pieces to their offense that they can attack you with. You have to be on your Ps and Qs when any of those guys step on the field."

"Great player, obviously, you've seen what he's done," Ebner said of Gronkowski "He's an amazing player. Physical, fast, great hands. He's going to be a handful."

Bradberry has years of experience covering Evans, as the two met twice a year during the former Carolina corner's four seasons in the NFC South.

Stopping Tampa's RB duo

Looking at the stats from the first seven weeks of the season, the Buccaneers' rushing attack may not seem like one of the team's strong suits. Tampa Bay currently ranks 19th in the league with 105.7 rushing per game and 18th in yards per carry (4.1). But sometimes, stats can be a bit deceiving, and such is the case when it comes to the duo of Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette.

Jones is off to the strongest start of his career. The third-year back has ran the ball 110 times for 506 yards (4.6 avg.) and four touchdowns. He struggled against the Raiders (13 carries for 34 yards), but Fournette was able to make up for it. Fournette had not received a carry since Week 3, then pounded the Raiders with 11 carries for 50 yards to go with six receptions for 47 yards. In his best game of the year, Fournette rumbled for 103 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries against Carolina in Week 2.

The Giants' defense is allowing 105 rushing yards allowed per game this season, good for the eighth-best mark in the league, while its 3.7-average ranks fifth. The unit's weakness has been defending running backs in the passing game. Last week, Boston Scott caught three passes for 46 yards and the winning touchdown, while Washington's J.D. McKissic (6 receptions for 43 yards) played a big role in the passing game in Week 6.

View photos of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers starters ahead of the Week 8 matchup, based on their unofficial depth chart.

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