The Giants need to improve pass protection more than the pass rush in the second half of the season.
John Schmeelk - Fact: The Giants are averaging 18.8 points per game. Only five teams average fewer points. Nothing is going to get better unless that number improves. Better pass protection won't solve all the problems on offense, but it will solve enough of them to make this decision an easy one. Eli Manning has been sacked 31 times this year. It is hard for a quarterback to function when he is being hit that many times. The Giants' defense has just 10 sacks, which must also get better, but it is not as critical as the pass protection.
Dan Salomone - Fact. Pat Shurmur said before the season that the Giants will go as far as the offensive line takes them, so that speaks for itself. A lack of continuity has hurt a group that was mostly unchanged from April to the start of the season. Injuries and inconsistent play forced the changes, and with the addition of Jamon Brown, the Giants will likely start their ninth different offensive lineman of the season. "That ship has sailed right now, wouldn't you agree?" Shurmur said this week about the importance of continuity. "So, we don't talk about it. We get guys ready to play and we expect that they're going to press it forward and expedite that process. Everybody deals with it, the Redskins lost three guys, so that's out the window. They're going to put five guys in there and go play. That's really where we're all at. I was watching the game, this was about a year ago today when the Giants went out and played the Niners, and I was watching the game just because it's the same defensive scheme and I think there were four players on our offense that played last year. If you do the math, there's seven new guys in there. There's a lot of change, there's a lot running parallel, but the urgency to win is always there. That's what we're trying to do."
Lance Medow - Fact: Eli Manning has been sacked 31 times in the first eight games combined. Last year, he was sacked 31 times the entire season. That should tell you all you need to know. In the first half of the season, negative plays and sacks have plagued the Giants' offense and stalled drives. If the team wants to increase its scoring in the second half of the season, the pass protection must improve as productive drives go hand in hand with strong offensive line play. With that being said, the defense has collected just 10 sacks in eight games, so the pass rush certainly has to improve. Despite the low sack total, though, the defense overall has kept the team in games and surrendered 23 points or less in five of the first eight games.
Odell Beckham Jr. will have more receiving touchdowns than Saquon Barkley in the final eight games.
John Schmeelk - Fact: While Beckham faces a ton of extra attention in the red zone, it is difficult for running backs to score points in the passing game on a consistent basis. I would expect Beckham to put at least four touchdowns on the board in the second half of the season. Even if they don't come in the red zone, Beckham should be able to bring home a couple deep passes or have some long runs after the catch. His touchdowns are going to come.
Dan Salomone - Fiction. I'm usually smarter than betting against Beckham, but this time I'll be dumb. For a host of reasons, getting into the end zone has been like pulling teeth for the Giants. Because of his innate ability to make something out of nothing and the position he plays, I just think Barkley will lead in the second half. More things need to go right for Beckham, a wide receiver, to get the ball into the end zone. And more things went wrong than right in the first half.
Lance Medow - Fact: In each of Odell Beckham Jr.'s first three seasons in the league, when he played in at least 12 games, he finished with at least 10 touchdowns. This season, Beckham had just two in the first eight games, but so did Barkley. Two touchdowns are Beckham's lowest total through his first eight games of a season. In 2014 and 2016, he collected five, and in 2015 he had seven. Based on his previous season totals, I'd say Beckham has the edge here. The numbers should balance out and I think it's fair to say if the Giants want to have a productive second half of the season, they need him to have more receiving touchdowns than Barkley.
Keep an eye on these five players as the Giants take on the 49ers Monday night.
The player you're most interested to see make his Giants' debut is RJ McIntosh.
John Schmeelk - Fiction: I'm going to go with guard Jamon Brown. He is only 25 years old and Pat Shurmur has already said he has a chance to slide right into the starting lineup if he gets up to speed. I will be interested to see what kind of impact inserting a big, powerful player like Brown might have on the running game. The hope would be the offensive gets a little more push. No one should expect him to fix everything, but he could help.
Dan Salomone - Fact. A little less than a month ago when McIntosh practiced for the first time, Shurmur was asked how far behind he was at that point. "That's a crazy question," he said. "He's obviously way behind. … He hasn't had pads on since he was in college. It's not like basketball where you can still shoot. He's got to learn how to play again, and that's what we're going to use this three weeks for. So, yeah, he's way behind." Shurmur referenced that quote this week when McIntosh was activated, saying dryly that "he's not as far behind now." In all seriousness, though, McIntosh is an unknown at this point, and let's see what he can do if and when he gets into a game.
Lance Medow - Fact: In fairness, there's not a lot of choices to consider for this statement with the exception of new offensive lineman Jamon Brown, new corner Tony Lippett and wide receiver Corey Coleman, who were all added to the roster within the last two weeks. I'm anxious to see Brown when he gets an opportunity on the line, but RJ McIntosh needs to top the list. The latter is a rookie who was sidelined throughout the offseason and training camp. Unlike Brown, Lippett and Coleman, we have yet to see McIntosh in a regular season game or a setting close to that. The Giants drafted the former Miami defensive lineman for a reason. It's now time to see why.
Giants-49ers is historically the best non-divisional rivalry in the NFL.
John Schmeelk - Fact: This is a really tough one. Aside from Giants-49ers, other rivalries I would consider are Cowboys-49ers from the 90s, Patriots-Steelers because of their recent playoff battles (though the Steelers haven't won enough of them to make it a true rivalry), or maybe even Cowboys-Steelers with their two Super Bowl matchups from 70s and another in the 90s. The reason Giants-49ers wins is because their rivalry got renewed when they met in the 2011 NFC Championship Game. It gives the rivalry a renewed vigor after so many legendary matchups in the 80s and early 90s that the others don't have.
Dan Salomone - Fact. The series is separated by one point. Just think about that. They are tied 16-16 in the regular season (Giants are plus-3 in points) and 4-4 in the postseason (minus-2). Within those are some of the most classic non-Super Bowl games in NFL history, let alone in either franchise's annals. These teams have nine Super Bowl titles combined, and they often went through one another to get there. The Giants' 1986, 1990 and 2011 championship teams had to beat the 49ers in the playoffs, and the opposite was true for San Francisco in 1981 and 1984. Incredible.
Lance Medow - Fact: I'm going with the clean sweep this week.Dallas-Green Bay (eight playoff meetings), Dallas-San Francisco (eight) and New England-Indianapolis (five) all deserve consideration in this discussion. While I understand regular season meetings contribute to a rivalry, let's face it, postseason matchups take a rivalry to a whole other level. Like the Cowboys and Packers, the Giants and 49ers have also collided eight times in the playoffs. While a few have been lopsided, many of the Giants-49ers battles have gone down to the wire, which is why this rivalry tops my list. The 1990 NFC Championship Game was decided by a Matt Bahr field goal as time expired, the 2002 Wild Card Round showcased an epic Niners comeback and a dramatic ending and then, of course, there's the 2011 NFC Championship game that went to overtime. The last two Cowboys-Packers postseason meetings have been decided by five points or less, but there's a bit more substance within the Giants-49ers rivalry.