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5 Things We Learned

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5 things we learned (12/29): Smith & the ILB group; McKinney returns to practice


The week between Christmas and New Year's is not typically known to be one where a lot of work gets done, but this does not hold true at 1925 Giants Drive. The Giants are hard at work as they continue preparations for their New Year's Day matchup against the Indianapolis Colts.

If the Giants win one of their final two games, they will clinch the franchise's first playoff berth since 2016 and only the second one since their 2011 Super Bowl run. Even if they lose both of their final two games, they could still make the postseason with some help. Check out all of the Giants' playoff clinching scenarios here.

Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale and special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey met with the media Thursday to discuss a variety of topics, including this weekend's matchup against Jeff Saturday's Colts.

Here are five things we learned:

1. Smith and the new ILB group

Jaylon Smith was signed to the practice squad on Sept. 20 and elevated to the active roster 11 days later. The veteran linebacker made his 2022 debut against the Bears in Week 4 and hasn't looked back. Smith has started 10 games for the Giants this season, including each of the last nine, and has stepped up his game in recent weeks. Since Week 12, the 27-year-old has registered at least nine total tackles in four of the last five games while playing 74 percent of the defensive snaps in four of the five. Smith is coming off his best game of the season, matching his season-high of 10 tackles (seven solo) and picking up his first sack of the year.

"Jaylon's playing well," Wink Martindale said. "He's a first- [and] second-down linebacker for us. He's playing well. Today we're going to give him a vet day. I think the wear and tear of the season is catching up with him a little bit; but you see it, we're going to play who we think is best, get them in there and go."

The Giants have made some changes to the inside linebacker group in recent weeks. Following Landon Collins' third elevation from the practice squad for the rematch against the Commanders, he was signed to the active roster last week ahead of the game in Minnesota. The veteran responded with his first sack and pass breakup of the season.

In addition to Collins, the Giants signed linebacker Jarrad Davis off the Detroit Lions practice squad on Wednesday. The veteran has played five of his six seasons with the Lions, along with one year with the Jets (2021). Davis, who turned 28 last month, has played in 67 regular season games (50 starts). His career totals include 327 tackles (217 solo), 10.5 sacks, 23 quarterback hits, seven forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, 10 passes defensed and one interception.

2. Saquon the closer

Saquon Barkley has put together back-to-back strong performances. Over the last two weeks, Barkley has rushed for at least 84 yards and a touchdown while averaging over 4.5 yards per carry. Last week's game against the Vikings was one of Barkley's most efficient outings of the season, as the star running back ran for 84 yards on just 14 carries, good for an average of 6.0 yards per carry.

The 25-year-old back had the team's best play of the day when it mattered most. Facing a 4th-and-2 in Minnesota territory with just over two minutes remaining, Barkley broke loose for a 27-yard touchdown run. It was the second straight week in which he came through in the clutch for the Giants. Against the Commanders in Week 15, Barkley began the team's final scoring drive with runs of 12, 15 and 14 yards to help take time off the clock in the win.

"He's doing a great job of staying patient with it, trusting his reads," Mike Kafka said about Barkley's success late in games. "I think sometimes the run game, in general – generally speaking – the run game's not just a bunch of eight-and nine-yard gains, right? There's a couple two's and three's in there and you get working and you get a feel for how the flow of the game works out and the o-line sticking with it and they're running off the football, stressing all the things that we talk about in practice. I think as the game goes on, it kind of declares a little bit – you kind of get a good feel in that second half of the adjustments you want to make and the guys have done a great job really communicating through those."

The Colts rank 20th in the league with an average of 122.2 rushing yards allowed per game. They have also surrendered 18 touchdowns on the ground, the sixth-most in the league.

3. McKinney returns to practice, other injury updates

The schedule might say Week 17, but the Giants are about as healthy as they've been this season. On Thursday, they got some more positive news as it was announced that Xavier McKinney had been designated to return to practice. The third-year safety practiced today for the first time since he fractured fingers on his left hand during the bye week in early November, an injury that led to surgery for the 23-year-old.

McKinney's return to the field would certainly provide the defense with a big boost. However, coach Brian Daboll would not commit to the young safety definitely being able to play in a game this season. The Giants have 21 days to either add him to the active roster or keep him on reserve.

"Just starting him today," Daboll said about McKinney's potential return. "I think the first thing is just let him get out here, move around. He hasn't played in a while, but he's got a contraption to protect his hand. So, I figure we'll get him started. He's been moving around, rehabbing. His lower body's obviously good. So, we'll go ahead and let him practice. And then just kind of see where he's at."

The Giants only have three players listed on the injury report with actual ailments, as Dexter Lawrence received a veteran rest day on Wednesday but was back in full Thursday. Defensive lineman Leonard Williams continued to be limited with the same neck injury he's been dealing with the past few weeks.

Meanwhile for the second consecutive day, cornerback Adoree' Jackson and outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari were limited participants in practice. Jackson has been out with a knee injury since Week 11, with Wednesday being his first day back at practice. Ojulari suffered an ankle injury against the Vikings last weekend. Daboll told the media that both players have "a chance" to suit up against Indianapolis.

"We're taking it day by day still," Jackson told the media Thursday. "Just going out there, doing all the precautions, doing it right by the book and by the plan. Not trying to rush it. Every day, every week it's getting better."

View photos from practice as the Giants prepare for their Week 17 matchup against the Indianapolis Colts.

4. LG rotation 'has benefited both of those guys'

Ben Bredeson returned to the field for the Week 15 contest in Washington. Over the last two games, Bredeson and Nick Gates have split time at left guard. The former played 42 snaps (67 percent) against the Commanders while Gates was on the field for 21 (33 percent). The rotation was more of an even split this past weekend, with Gates playing one snap more than Bredeson. Both linemen have played well over the past two outings, with Kafka noting how the split has been advantageous for both guys.

"Yeah, I think it keeps both of those guys fresh," said the offensive coordinator. "They do a great job, really, throughout the week of practice too of communicating. Make sure they see the looks and talking about the looks. The rotation, I think, has benefited both of those guys…

"Every week is different, it doesn't say we may or may not do this week and it's something we talk about with Dabs and (offensive line coach) Bobby (Johnson) and how we want to roll those guys. It worked last week, and I think they did a nice job with it and kind of getting into the flow of the game. We'll continue to evaluate this week."

5. Don't sleep on Foles, Indy offense

Nick Foles' debut with the Colts did not go as planned. The veteran quarterback completed just 58.6 percent of his passes (17 of 29) for 143 yards with three interceptions, finishing with a passer rating of 31.9. However, Foles has enjoyed plenty of success over his 11-year career, including a Super Bowl MVP award, a trip to the Pro Bowl and a 3-0 record against the Giants. Martindale knows the Giants cannot overlook the 33-year-old QB just because of his struggles on Monday night.

"I think it's just respecting the game and respecting what he's done," Martindale said about Foles. "They just don't give out Super Bowl MVP trophies. And he has one of those, and he's got a Pro Bowl and things like that. You can tell he has a live arm, and they're trying to push the ball down the field with him. (I've) been in it long enough that I've gone against him when he was at Philly and those other places."

The Colts have some talented pass-catchers in the offense, starting with Michael Pittman. The third-year receiver leads the team with 90 receptions for 854 yards on a whopping 128 targets. Parris Campbell has succeeded as the unit's No. 2 receiver, catching 54 passes for 529 yards and three touchdowns, while rookie Alec Pierce has reeled in 35 passes for 536 yards and two scores. Tight ends Jelani Woods and Mo Alie-Cox also provide the Giants with some tough matchups, as both are former basketball players with tremendous athleticism. The tight end group is rounded out by Kylen Granson, who leads the trio with 31 receptions for 302 yards.

"It's going to be a challenge because he's got plenty of weapons to work with," Martindale added. "He's got two NBA players playing tight end (Alie-Cox and Woods), and he's got a bunch of receivers with huge catch radius – anything that's close to them, they catch. So, it's going to be a great challenge for us."

Foles was sacked seven times by the Chargers last week, which brought the Colts' total up to 56 sacks allowed on the season (one behind Denver's league high). Martindale smiled, explaining a part of last week's sack total was likely due to Foles shaking off the rust in his first start.

"What's going through my mind is that at that time, that's the first game he's played in a while," he said. "So, it's going to do nothing but get better for him, seeing things, going at a faster pace of it. But there's definitely blood in the water."


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