Saquon Barkley will have more carries than targets vs. Houston.
John Schmeelk - Fact: Make no mistake about it, Barkley will get his fair share of check-downs this week since the Texans play a defense that tries to prevent teams from getting the ball down the field. Their fierce pass rush might also force the Giants to go to Barkley more. With that said, the Giants will do their best to get their running game going this week, even against a good Texans front. I do think, despite the fact Barkley will have more carries than targets, he will have more receiving yards than rushing yards.
Dan Salomone - Fact. Sometimes the best way to neutralize a talented pass rush is to run the ball right at it. And lo and behold, the Giants drafted a player second overall to do just that The Giants got away from a balanced attack last week with 44 passes to just 17 rushes. What’s the difference between Barkley getting a chunk of yards on a catch or a carry? But at the same time, you want to keep the defense guessing and hopefully wear it down over the course of the game. I think Barkley gets the majority of his touches this week on the ground and maybe takes advantage of the aggressive front.
Lance Medow - Fact: I think last Sunday’s game against the Cowboys was a very unique circumstance where he wound up with 11 carries and 16 targets. To expect Barkley to see double-digit targets in the passing game every week is a big stretch. That’s why I think his Week 1 breakdown against the Jaguars (18 carries and six targets) is a much better indicator of what he’ll see throughout the season. If Barkley ends up with more targets than carries against the Texans, that likely means the Giants are playing from behind and aren’t presented with opportunities to throw the ball down the field. Neither one of those trends is a recipe for victory.
It is more important for the Giants to limit running back Lamar Miller than wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
John Schmeelk - Fiction: The Texans’ rushing stats are skewed by Deshaun Watson’s 40-plus rushing yards per game. With his numbers not included, Houston drops from the top rushing team in the league to 10th. It still is a respectable number, but watching the tape, the Houston rushing attack doesn’t dominate the game. In fact, the Texans are one of the worst teams in the league on first downs. DeAndre Hopkins, on the other hand, is Watson’s go-to guy, especially on scramble plays. His physicality, route-running, and catch radius are excellent. If Donte Deayon ends up playing a lot in the slot, the Texans might move him inside to see if the smaller Deayon can cover him.
Dan Salomone - Fact: The Giants have the No. 2 pass defense (164.0 yards allowed per game) in the league heading into Week 3, but where they have struggled is against the run. If they can shore that up, it could be the difference in winning the game. Miller is a tough runner who can get yards after contact, and the Giants need to make sure they wrap up this week.
Lance Medow - Fiction: Normally, I would say stopping the run is priority number one, but even though the Texans run game ranks number one in the league after the first two weeks of the season, that’s a product of not just Miller. Alfred Blue and, most importantly, Deshaun Watson have been just as effective on the ground as Miller. So when it comes to Houston’s run game, it’s really a three-headed monster as opposed to one main workhorse. All you have to do is look at the stats. Watson and Blue are both averaging over six yards per rush. On top of that, Watson loves to throw the ball down the field and give his wide receivers opportunities to make plays, especially DeAndre Hopkins. The two-Time Pro Bowler is one of the most athletic wideouts in the game and has tremendous ball control even when he’s double teamed. If Hopkins gets going, finds ways to make plays and consistently moves the chains, it may not make a difference what Houston does on the ground.
Deshaun Watson will turn out to be the best quarterback from the 2017 draft class.
John Schmeelk - Fiction: I think the early returns point to Patrick Mahomes. I hate to overreact to just two games, but it isn’t like Watson has a much larger sample size with just eight games played. Both players have all the talent in the world and have shown they can play at a high level as young quarterbacks. I think both have a very bright future, but I like the way Mahomes handles some of the nuances of quarterback play better than Watson at this point. He gets the ball out quicker and seems to deliver the ball on time more frequently. I could totally see this going either way, with Mitch Trubisky in the mix as well.
Dan Salomone - Fact: You all saw what he did last year, throwing 18 touchdowns and running for two more in his six starts – as a rookie. That included five passing strikes against Kansas City, and four against Tennessee and Seattle. And there are Pro Bowlers up and down those teams’ secondaries. My true gauge, though, is always what did they do against Ohio State in college? Well, Clemson rolled over my Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl in Watson’s senior year (en route to winning a national championship vs. Alabama), so he must be pretty good. It’s the same test I applied to Khalil Mack, who singlehandedly kept Buffalo competitive in The Horseshoe in a 2013 meeting.
Lance Medow - Fiction: Deshaun Watson is very much in the mix, and I think when it’s all said and done, it’s going to be an extremely tight race. However, I believe that title will wind up going to fellow first-round pick and Chiefs’ starter Patrick Mahomes. The sample sizes are very small for both signal callers as Watson will be playing in just his ninth game this Sunday and Mahomes his fourth, but I think at this point Mahomes is a bit more polished as a passer. The former Texas Tech standout has thrown for 10 touchdowns with no interceptions in his first two games combined this season and he’s completing nearly 70 percent of his passes. While both have tremendous arm strength and the ability to extend plays, I think Mahomes’ decision making is what makes him stand out. He clearly benefited from an entire season learning from Alex Smith, whereas with Watson, it was more baptism by fire as a rookie. You also can’t dismiss Bears’ 2017 first round pick Mitchell Trubisky, who was selected ahead of both Watson and Mahomes, but given Andy Reid’s strong track record with quarterbacks, my money is on Mahomes.
5 players who can make a difference on Sunday
Of states with multiple NFL teams, Texas currently has the toughest group.
John Schmeelk - Fiction: At first, you have to think California because of volume. The Rams are probably the second best of all the teams in states with multiple clubs. The 49ers are an up and coming team as well. The Chargers will be in the mix to win the AFC West. The Raiders are rebuilding under Jon Gruden, however, who just traded their best defensive player. Florida has the Jaguars, which is the best team in this group, but the Dolphins do not impress me yet. The Jets and Giants both selected in the top five of the draft last year. Neither the Texans, nor the Cowboys made the playoffs last season. The Browns and Bengals? No. You have to go to Pennsylvania, where both the Steelers and Eagles made the playoffs last year, with the latter winning the Super Bowl. Both should be back in the postseason this year as well. For now, Pennsylvania is king. I love these off-the-beaten-path Salomone questions.
Dan Salomone - Fiction: Pennsylvania still counts even though it’s a commonwealth, right? Either way, that long, rectangular patch of land boasts seven Lombardi Trophies now that Philadelphia added one to Pittsburgh’s record total. Currently, I still think they are the teams to beat in their respective divisions. The Steelers have a lot going on right now, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see them deep in the playoffs yet again by the time it’s all said and done. The Eagles, meanwhile, get back their pre-injury MVP candidate quarterback this week in Carson Wentz. And they didn’t even need him to win a Super Bowl. So what does that say now that he is back in the lineup?
Lance Medow - Fiction: Here are our choices: California (Rams, Chargers, San Francisco, Oakland), Florida (Tampa Bay, Miami, Jacksonville), New Jersey (Giants, Jets), Ohio (Cincinnati, Cleveland), Pennsylvania (Eagles, Steelers) and Texas (Cowboys, Texans). Dallas and Houston both have very strong defenses and run games as well as offenses led by young mobile quarterbacks, but both teams have had some ups and downs in their first two games of the season. Same can be said for the two Pennsylvania teams, and given Le’Veon Bell is still a no show for the Steelers, it’s hard to put them atop the list. While the Browns have made strides, let’s not forget they’re still the Browns. Even though I’m high on the Bengals, that’s not enough to elevate Ohio.
That leaves California and Florida. All three teams from the Sunshine State are 2-0 and there’s a lot to like with respect to how all three quarterbacks (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Tannehill, Blake Bortles) are playing. Of all the teams on the list, the Rams are arguably the most balanced. I think the Chargers are extremely dangerous and will start to click even more when pass rusher Joey Bosa returns from injury. The Niners are intriguing with Jimmy Garoppolo, as are the Raiders given their offensive pieces and Jon Gruden’s arrival. Although California has the most teams, volume doesn’t necessarily equate to substance. I think the state has two really strong contenders in the Rams and Chargers, but if we’re going based on the wording of the statement, which says “currently has the toughest group”, then it’s hard to argue against Florida. The Bucs, Dolphins and Jaguars are playing their best football right now.