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Fact or Fiction: Questions for Giants post-bye

1. WR Darius Slayton has been the biggest surprise of the season.

John Schmeelk: Fiction – The performances of Darius Slayton and injured linebacker Ryan Connelly were pleasant surprises this season, but I can’t bury the lede of the 2019 season: Daniel Jones. The rookie quarterback impressed in offseason workouts and the preseason, so if I was basing my answer on expectations from September, I would pick Slayton or Connelly. But if I take a wider view of the season from last May, Jones would have to be my biggest surprise. I did not expect him to be named as starter so early in the season or be as competent as he has been so early in his career.

While Jones has aspects of his game he needs to work on(turnovers), he has looked the part of an NFL quarterback. His physical traits are all NFL worthy, and he has quickly mentally adapted to the league. He reads defenses and finds open receivers. He is not afraid to throw with anticipation and aggressively into smaller windows (which has also led to some of those aforementioned turnovers). Even with his mistakes, he is further along than most rookie quarterbacks and has a chance to be a winner in this league for a long time.

Dan Salomone: Fact – The only hesitation here is that we knew from spring practices that Slayton could play and the coaches liked him. But to see him tied for the NFL rookie lead in touchdown catches, yeah, that’s surprising for the 171st pick in the draft. He also missed the first two weeks of the season and played in only one preseason game because of a hamstring injury. Keep in mind, this is a guy who caught just 79 passes in three years at Auburn. This was a great find by the college scouts.

Lance Medow: Fact – This year’s fifth-round pick leads the team in touchdown receptions and is third in receiving yards. He’s also coming off a career-best 10-reception, 121-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Jets. That was the second time in three contests he recorded a multi-touchdown game. The fact that Slayton struggled at the start of rookie minicamp with a case of the dropsies, missed a good portion of training camp and the preseason as well as the first two regular season games due to a hamstring injury and has now emerged as one of the team’s notable receiving threats easily makes him the biggest surprise of the season.

2. Turnovers have been the No. 1 problem for the Giants.

Schmeelk: Fact – The Giants lead the league in turnovers with 24. Their -12 turnover ratio is tied for worst in the league with two other two-win teams, Atlanta and Miami. The winless Bengals are -11. The Giants have only won the turnover battle in one game, when they lost at Detroit. They were even in two others. A young team in the middle of a roster transformation is not going to win consistently giving the ball away, especially when four of those turnovers went for touchdowns. Teams that lose the turnover battle this season are 26-78-1. Teams that are -2 or worse are 5-54. It is a recipe for defeat.

Salomone: Fiction – The Giants might have survived some of the turnovers if they didn’t give up so many big plays, which often came at the biggest moments. At the break, the Giants have allowed 50 plays of 20+ yards. Only Oakland and Cincinnati have more.

Medow: Fact – The Giants lead the NFL in giveaways with 24 and are tied with the Falcons and Dolphins for the worst turnover differential (-12). It’s no coincidence that Atlanta and Miami also have two wins each. Turnovers have killed drives, handed the opposition great field position and, most notably, given teams multiple opportunities to put points on the board. Case in point, Giants’ opponents have returned four fumbles for touchdowns, including one in each of the last three games. I’d love to see someone make an argument, including my colleagues, that there’s something worse than turnovers that has plagued and come back to bite the Giants this season

3. The offensive player primed for a big second half is WR Golden Tate.

Schmeelk: Fact – Honestly, I was impressed by Tate’s first half and I see no reason why it won’t continue. His 33 catches for 417 yards and three touchdowns over six games would extrapolate to 88 catches for 1,112 yards and eight touchdowns over a 16-game season. He has achieved quick chemistry with Jones and is his most reliable receiver. He is averaging 12.6 yards per catch and has touchdown catches of 61 and 64 yards. He has been effective on all levels of the defense and has shown his impressive run after the catch skills. He is quietly having an excellent season and I expect it to continue.

Salomone: Fiction – I’m staying with Young Slay. He has only eight games (five starts) under his belt, and we’ve seen the results. He has two multi-touchdown games in the last three weeks, so you have to think he will only get better. Not only did he find the end zone twice last week, he also racked up 10 catches on 14 targets from Jones. The two are building something.

Medow: Fact – Ever since Golden Tate returned from his four-game suspension, he has been one of the most consistent players on the team. Tate has collected at least 80 receiving yards in four of the six games he’s played and at least six receptions in four of those six. He seems to be building great chemistry with Daniel Jones and has shown the ability to create explosive plays thanks to his yardage after the catch. The latter shouldn’t surprise anyone given that’s been his main weapon throughout his career. Even though Tate missed the first four games of the season, he is tied for second on the team in receptions (33) and is second in receiving yards (417), just 50 yards behind leader Evan Engram. I don’t see why his production will slow down in the final six games.

4. The defensive player primed for a big second half is DL Leonard Williams.

Schmeelk: Fiction – I do think Williams will have a big second half even though some fans might not notice it, since his performance doesn’t often show up in the stat sheet. For example, he only had one solo tackle against Jets, but he was a constant disruptor as a pass rusher. I want to go with a sleeper: Julian Love. I have no idea if he is going to be given more time in the second half, but I think he has the potential to impact the team in a positive way in the secondary, where there have been struggles. Head coach Pat Shurmur mentioned that he has gotten work at safety, so perhaps he might see some time at free safety. It can’t hurt to see what the Giants might have from a young player at that position before the season is over. I think Love will take advantage of those opportunities.

Salomone: Fact – Williams admitted this whole season is an audition. The Giants brought him over from the Jets in a trade and their goal is to sign him to a long-term deal. How long might depend on how he plays in the final six games. So far, he has jumped right in and played a significant number of snaps. He led the Giants last week with four quarterback hits on former teammate Sam Darnold. 

Medow: Fiction – Nearly pulled off the fact sweep. I think Leonard Williams will get more and more comfortable within the scheme over the next few weeks, but the player primed for a big second half is Markus Golden. He has been the most consistent force on that side of the ball as he leads the team in sacks (6.5), tackles for loss (9.5) and also returned a fumble for a touchdown against the Patriots in Week 6. There were several questions surrounding Golden this offseason when he signed with the Giants, including could he return to his form before a torn ACL in 2017? Would he provide a spark for the pass rush? Well, Golden has provided the Giants with a nice return on their investment, and I think he’ll continue to generate interest in the final six games.

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