Five storylines to follow as the Giants seek their fifth win in six games with a visit from the Titans next on the schedule:
1. Shurmur, Vrabel put on blinders. The New York Giants (5-8) host the Tennessee Titans (7-6) on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. The Giants’ 24-point margin of victory last week vs. Washington was their largest since a 36-7 triumph on Dec. 7, 2014, against the Titans. Tennessee, meanwhile, is coming off its own lopsided victory over Jacksonville to continue its playoff push. While the Giants have much more work to do – both in and out of their control – the two teams with new head coaches are still alive for a spot in the postseason. But they’ll let everyone else do the math while they just go out and play.
“Well, winning is fun,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said. “And when you go on the field and you’re having success, that’s fun. I’ve noticed that same as we prepare. It’s somewhat of a grind as you go through the week, but our guys enjoy practicing and getting better. Unfortunately, the world can’t see all that. I’ve seen it, but when you have a game play out the way it did last week, it brings out the joy in a more obvious way for the people watching the game. That’s the thing that we crave. The important thing is that was the result of good preparation and then performing well. The message to the team is, we want that again.”
“We haven’t talked much [about the playoffs],” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “We try to eliminate all the scenarios. The only scenario that we try to focus on is our preparation right now as we head into a road game against the Giants. Really, that’s the scenario. You could talk about scenarios all day, there’s scenarios where the Dolphins give up two punt blocks and score on a 70-yard hook-and-ladder, a scenario where a player jumps offside on a third-and-one in a four-minute situation, a situation where a team executes a 50-yard hook-and-ladder and then the kicker slips. Those are all the scenarios that are crazy that happen in this league every week, so the one we’re going to try to focus on is our preparation versus the Giants.”
2. Odell still dealing with quad; injury report. Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. participated in individual drills on Wednesday as he works his way back from the bruised quad that caused him to not travel to last week’s victory over Washington. Shurmur said Beckham is “getting better each day” and they will “know more as the week goes on.” Tight end Rhett Ellison (ankle) did not practice, and safety Curtis Riley, who had a pick-six in last week’s game, is expected to be full-go after dealing with a sprained wrist.
“Teams beat teams, and at this time of year, I’ll bet there’s no teams that are playing with their initial rosters,” Shurmur said. “Teams beat teams, and that’s where guys step up and make an impact in the game in and around injuries. I think that’s safe to be said about any position group or any player.”
3. What rookie wall? With Week 15 upon us, this is the time when rookies can start to fade in the grind of the NFL season. They are playing more snaps than ever before in their careers and are doing so at the highest level. But the “rookie wall” might be a thing of the past. At least, that’s the case with this year’s crop for the Giants. Saquon Barkley is in the running for the rushing title, left guard Will Hernandez is coming off his best game yet, defensive lineman B.J. Hill leads the team in sacks, and outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter had a sack in last week’s game. And those are draft picks. Undrafted rookies like Grant Haley and Sean Chandler are stepping up in the secondary, which recently lost two-time Pro Bowl safety and defensive co-captain Landon Collins due to a season-ending injury.
“I don’t know about the ‘rookie wall’ anymore,” Shurmur said. “We used to talk about it more, I think, when college seasons were shorter. College seasons now are so stinking long, they go almost as long as pro seasons, and so I think there’s less conversation about that. Guys take care of their bodies, understand the importance of getting rest, and so I think you see a little bit less of that now. We talk about it less than we did maybe 10 years ago.”
On how Hernandez has played recently versus earlier in the season, Shurmur said: “I think it’s night and day, but again, young players that are in there for the first time have a chance to grow much more than the guys that have been in the business for a while. I think – I don’t think, I know his best game was last week, and he’s played well really since the bye, just like that whole group in general, so it’s good to see that. He has a lot of good plays in the game. I think as he goes along, what we’re seeing is less bad plays. When you’re out there 65-70 snaps against good players, every once in a while they’re going to get you, and he’s having less of those plays where they got him.”
4. Bring your radar gun. Barkley reached 21.91 miles per hour on his 78-yard touchdown last week, the highest speed reached on a touchdown run in the NFL this season. The second-fastest? Derrick Henry at 21.74 on his 54-yarder in Week 14, part of a four-touchdown performance in Tennessee’s rout of Jacksonville. Henry also had a 99-yard touchdown run in that game to finish with a franchise-record 238 rushing yards.
“The 99-yarder, yeah, that was impressive,” Barkley said. “That looked like the vintage Derrick Henry from college at Alabama. I think he was doing that every single week at Alabama. He’s a big back, but I don’t think a lot of people realize how fast he is, and when you get a guy that big rolling at that speed and he was just throwing guys off him like it was high school -- that was definitely a very impressive run. It might be one of the best runs ever in NFL history. In my personal opinion, I like Beast Mode’s run (Marshawn Lynch’s 67-yard score in the Seahawks’ wild-card victory over the Saints on Jan. 8, 2011) still, but it’s up there. It’s up there.”
5. Eli gladly running offense through Barkley. Offensive linemen are close, but a quarterback’s best friend is the running back. Despite the age gap – Manning, 37, is the oldest player on the team while Barkley, 21, is the youngest – the two are as thick as thieves. Following Barkley’s performance in Washington that will likely be used in his Offensive Rookie of the Year highlights at the NFL’s awards show next month, Manning said, “I think we’re starting to figure out that offense runs through him a little bit. When we run the ball well, it just sets up everything else, sets up the play-action, sets up so much.”
Since the bye week, Manning has thrown 10 touchdowns to just two interceptions with a 106.5 passer rating and has 11 completions of 25 yards or more. Vrabel, who will try to scheme up a way to stop him this week, has seen first-hand what Manning can do. The Titans’ first-year head coach faced the Giants quarterback three times in his playing career, including Super Bowl XLII with the Patriots, and once as a linebackers coach with the Texans in 2014.
“He’s as clean as you would need him to be,” Vrabel said. “The ball is coming out quick. He does a good job with the quick game. They’ve got an ability to get it out of his hand and he’s accurate. They still boot with him. I think that was the thing that was probably most surprising as I watch the tape is that they’re still able to move the pocket and get him on the edge, create a different launch point for him throughout the game.”