Five storylines to follow heading into the Giants’ Week 12 game in Philadelphia:
1. Important week in the NFC East. Through 11 weeks, no team in the NFC East has more than six wins or fewer than three. Washington (6-4), Dallas (5-5), Philadelphia (4-6) and New York (3-7) all stand within three games of each other and also play divisional games in Week 12. On Thanksgiving Day, the Cowboys host the Redskins, who will go with Colt McCoy for the foreseeable future after starting quarterback Alex Smith suffered a gruesome season-ending leg injury in last week’s loss to the Texans. On Saturday, the Giants travel south on the Turnpike ahead of Sunday’s game in Philadelphia, where they have not won since 2013. It will be a week of either separation or further muddling.
2. Shurmur embracing the buzz. Heading into the bye week, the only race people were talking about with respect to the 1-7 Giants was for the top pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Two wins in two weeks later, there is a distant buzz about the possibility of them getting back in the NFC East race. With victories over San Francisco and Tampa Bay, Big Blue is on its first winning streak since late in the 2016 season and looking to extend it against the defending Super Bowl champions, who are coming off a 48-7 loss in New Orleans.
“I embrace [the buzz] because we’re playing this thing just the way you have to play it,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “We own a poor record in the first half, but you keep playing. I keep answering the same questions about it, you keep playing and you keep improving. You never know what happens. You can never tell what’s going to happen, and that’s why you keep playing.
“And that’s why it’s important for our locker room not to get ill. If you lose a game and you battle, you’ve got to find a way to come back and make the corrections, and move on to the next one. You can’t let that game create an illness on your team, and I think our guys have listened to that message. I think the leadership in our locker room is good, and we’re just going to try to battle this thing all the way to the end because that’s what we do. That’s what we do as coaches and players, that’s why we’re in this for the competitive spirit of this with the goal of winning each game, and then we’ll let everyone that does the math add it up at the end.”
3. O-line helping Eli quiet the noise. Along with the October draft talk came questions about Eli Manning’s future, a topic the two-time Super Bowl MVP has dealt with once or twice before in his storied career. Shurmur talked to him over the bye week and said he would be the starter in San Francisco “with the idea that he’s going to get us on a run here.” And that is what Manning has done, throwing five touchdowns to no interceptions in the two victories. His one-incompletion performance against Tampa Bay was one of the best statistical games of his career and in NFL history. His 94.4 completion percentage was tied for the third-highest in a single game in NFL history (minimum 15 attempts), and his 155.8 passer rating was his highest in a game in which he played all four quarters.
A major reason for his success is the offensive line, which has played its best two games of the year in back-to-back weeks. It has coincided with the arrival of Jamon Brown at right guard. Three of the five current offensive linemen were not part of the starting lineup at the beginning of the season, and two didn’t even spend the offseason with the team (Brown and center Spencer Pulley). Only left tackle Nate Solder and rookie left Guard Will Hernandez have started every game, while right tackle Chad Wheeler took over for Ereck Flowers in Week 3.
“I think the last two games, it’s been their best games,” Manning said. “And obviously there’s just been a lot of turnaround at the offensive line from right tackle to right guard, centers, that whole right side and new players and it’s been different combinations. So finally for the last couple of weeks just had that same combination and those guys working together and working well and they’re passing things off and doing some good things so they can keep playing that way, the run game, pass game should help us out.”
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4. One-and-done or sleeping giants? The Eagles, who went 13-3 last season, clinched the No. 1 seed and won a title with a backup quarterback, are looking to avoid becoming the 17th Super Bowl champion to miss the playoffs the following year. It’s something the Giants know all about, accounting for three of those instances, including the 2012 follow-up to their most recent run. The Eagles have gone from the No. 4 defense in both yards and scoring to Nos. 23 and 12, respectively. Meanwhile, former second overall pick Carson Wentz is coming off the worst statistical game of his career with a 31.9 passer rating against the Saints. “For whatever reason, teams have things happen to them,” Shurmur said, “but this is an outstanding offense.”
5. Rookie of the Week looking like Rookie of the Year. Following the Giants’ 38-35 victory over the Buccaneers, Saquon Barkley became just the second Giants rookie to win an Offensive Player of the Week award, which was instituted in 1984. Tight end Jeremy Shockey was selected in Week 17 of the 2002 season. Barkley made an effort to hit the holes faster, and it led to the best rushing performance of his young career.
“I said something to him about it and honestly that’s something that he needed to work on during the week,” Manning said. “But there was definitely a little better sense of getting the ball quicker and hitting the hole a little bit quicker.”
“When you see a player of Saquon’s caliber, the dirty runs, and he embraces it, that’s another part of his personality that’s outstanding because he’s coachable,” Shurmur said. “People that thought that was the right thing to do told him to do it and he did it. That’s awesome. You don’t always see that from great, high-caliber, high-quality players, so that’s another box we can check on him.”
In his first taste of the Giants-Eagles rivalry, a 34-13 loss in Week 6, Barkley racked up a season-high 229 yards from scrimmage.