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Fact or Fiction: Second half predictions

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Saquon Barkley’s first eight games have been more incredible than Odell Beckham Jr.’s as a rookie in 2014.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - As great as Odell Beckham Jr.’s first eight games of his career were, people forget he started a bit slowly after returning from his hamstring injury. He only had 10 catches for 105 yards and three touchdowns in his first three games of 2014. He took off after that, with 38 catches for 593 yards and two touchdowns in his next five games. Saquon Barkley did not start slowly. He actually has more catches than Beckham did in his first eight games, with 58. He has seven touchdowns versus Odell’s five. Barkley’s 1,016 scrimmage yards are beyond impressive and better than anything Beckham did in his first eight games. Barkley is the easy answer.

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - They have a lot of similarities, which is both good and bad for the Giants. On one hand, the team found another generational talent. On the other, both rookies were 1-7 in their first eight games. “The Catch” almost had be saying fiction for this one – just how it skyrocketed Beckham to immediate star status – but Barkley’s ability to create something out of nothing gives him the edge. I’ve said this before, but he makes grown men who make a livelihood playing football look like college kids.

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - Like Saquon Barkley, Odell Beckham also took the league by storm as a rookie, in 2014, but I would argue Barkley put up more explosive numbers in his first eight games. After missing the first four contests of 2014, due to a hamstring injury, Beckham made his debut in Week 5 and ultimately had the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Falcons but he didn’t post his first career 100-yard game till four weeks later when the Giants played the Colts, at home, on Monday Night Football. Beckham wound up recording three 100-yard receiving games in the first eight contests of his career whereas Barkley began his career with six straight 100+ scrimmage yard games (falling one game shy of matching the NFL record) and reached that feat in seven of his first eight games. Barkley has also produced seven touchdowns in eight contests and four plays of 50+ yards including two, at home, against the Eagles. In comparison, Beckham had five touchdowns and one 50+ yard play in his first eight games. Beckham’s overall rookie year was incredible but he didn’t top Barkley’s first eight contests.

Protecting the quarterback was the Giants’ biggest problem on offense in the first half of the season.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - There is no question that the pass protection has been a huge problem, but the team could have survived the issue if they had better success in the red zone (or run the ball more consistently). The Giants rank 31st in the NFL, converting only 40 percent of their red zone appearances into touchdowns. Despite their offensive line problems they are still ranked just below the middle of the league at 20th in yards per game. Some of those yards have come late in two-score games, but the team has still gotten to the red zone enough to score more points than they have.

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - The red zone is the biggest problem, but everything goes back to protection. Eli Manning is on pace to be sacked 62 times this season, and the pressure just throws off the timing of the whole operation. As Past Shurmur said going into the season, the Giants will go as far as the offensive line takes them. “I have said that and I do believe that, I think it all starts up front,” Shurmur said before players left for the bye week. “We’ve got to do a better job in all areas, including the front. But I agree with that, I think in order to do the things you want to do offensively, we have to block them well. All of our units need to play better.”

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - First of all, it’s very important to note, there’s been several issues on offense in the first half of the season including red zone struggles, inconsistency in the run game and penalties but if there’s one issue that constantly kills drives and can force an offense to become imbalanced, it’s pass protection woes. Eli Manning has been sacked 31 times in eight games. To put that in perspective, in 2017, he was sacked 31 times overall. He’s also been hit 58 times in those eight contests. Last season, though eight games, that number was 40 and 71 overall. To summarize, Manning has been sacked two plus times in seven of eight games and has taken five plus quarterback hits in seven of eight contests this season. Let me be very clear: sacks are a product of multiple factors. It’s not just the offensive line and it’s not just the quarterback’s decision making. It’s a combination of both but the bottom line is that area has to improve in the second half of the season if the Giants want to show any continuity on offense.

Stopping the run was the Giants’ biggest problem on defense in the first half of the season.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - Their lack of big plays have made it very difficult for the Giants defense to get off the field consistently this season. The Giants’ defense has just seven takeaways and 10 sacks in eight games. Without those types of impact plays on the defensive side of the ball, it puts a lot of pressure on the secondary to prevent third-down conversions on every drive. With very few interceptions or fumble recoveries, the offense isn’t getting the ball back in advantageous field position. Takeaways often come from pressure on the quarterback, so these statistics are definitely linked. Trailing in games can also make it hard to get consistent pressure on the quarterback, which scoring earlier on offense can help fix.

DAN SALOMONE: Fiction - It’s more about when they have given things up on defense. The Giants have allowed 80 points in the fourth quarter this season, the fourth-most in the NFL. That’s a tough pill to swallow because that’s when their offense has shown life, scoring 70 points in the final quarter, which are tied with the Patriots for fourth in the league.

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - Similar to the offense, there have been several issues on defense including low sack (ten) and takeaway (seven) totals but everything starts with stopping the run. If you don’t win the battle in the trenches, every other facet of your defense is impacted. The Giants are surrendering 122 rushing yards per game (23rd in the NFL). While every opposing running back hasn’t necessarily put up monster numbers, New York has allowed several big runs which have come at the worst possible time. In three of the last five games, the defense has surrendered fourth quarter touchdown runs of 30+ yards: Week 4 vs the Saints (Alvin Kamara 49-yard TD), Week 7 at the Falcons (Tevin Coleman 30-yard TD) and Week 8 vs the Redskins (Adrian Peterson 64-yard TD). Those three plays proved to be back breakers and were huge turning points in the games.

The rookie primed to make the biggest leap after the bye week is outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - This is an easy answer because the other rookies already playing are doing so at a fairly high level. Saquon Barkley has been fantastic, and both Will Hernandez and BJ Hill are playing like capable NFL starters already. Carter is getting anywhere from 20-40 snaps depending on the game, and every pass rush snap should help him develop in that area. He was not a pure pass rusher in college, playing as a more traditional 4-3 outside linebacker in space. He is still learning to be a consistent threat off the edge and every snap gets him a little better. A bit of a breakout in the second half is certainly a possibility.

DAN SALOMONE: Fiction - I’m going with a player on a unit in need of a big leap in the second half – left guard Will Hernandez. As the rookie approached the midway point in the season, offensive line coach Hal Hunter said the game started to slow down for him. Hunter recalled telling Hernandez that, next to a playoff game, the fastest game he will play in is Sunday Night Football. The Giants gave up six sacks in that Week 2 loss at AT&T Stadium, where the Cowboys threw a bunch of things that the offensive line did not handle. Since then, you see on tape that “when things are happening, he’s reacting to them a lot faster than he did. He’s diagnosing them a lot faster than he did his first couple weeks of the year. So that’s progress that you make and he’ll continue to make progress game after game after game through these first couple years in that aspect of it.” The next jump is becoming impactful.

LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - I can make a case for Lorenzo Carter and B.J. Hill given they’ve both shown some flashes in the first eight games of the season, including two sacks apiece, but I think Hill is primed to make the bigger leap because Snacks is no longer on the team. Harrison’s absence is going to create more opportunities for Hill in the second half of the season and he’ll have more exposure going up against various offensive lines and understanding the nuances of the game. One of the reasons why the Giants decided to trade Snacks is their confidence in some of the younger players on the roster, specifically Dalvin Tomlinson and Hill. The latter will now have his chance to deliver more consistently.

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