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5 Things We Learned

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5 things we learned (10/20): Dexter Lawrence a 'force' up front

(Ben Solomon/New York Giants)
(Ben Solomon/New York Giants)

The Giants hope to extend their winning streak to four games when they travel to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars in Week 7.

For the second consecutive week, the Giants took down a former league MVP as they defeated Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, 24-20. This came one week after defeating the reigning back-to-back MVP in Aaron Rodgers the week before.

As for the Jaguars, Doug Pederson's team fell to the Indianapolis Colts, 34-27, on the road. After winning back-to-back games in Weeks 2-3, the Jaguars (2-4) have dropped three straight.

Giants coordinators Mike Kafka, Wink Martindale and Thomas McGaughey addressed the media Thursday ahead of this weekend's game, along with running back Saquon Barkley.

Here are five things we learned Thursday:

1. Collaboration leads to offensive creativity

The Giants have been praised by many across the NFL landscape for their offensive creativity, especially when they get into the red zone. In the Week 4 win over the Packers, the Giants ran a double reverse from the Green Bay 2, which resulted with tight end Daniel Bellinger running the ball into the end zone. Saquon Barkley has also lined up in the wildcat formation several times in the red zone, with quarterback Daniel Jones lining up outside.

Brian Daboll's coaching staff consists of coaches who come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Whether it's former college or NFL coaches, the staff brings to the table a wide range of experience and knowledge, which Kafka credited as playing a big role in the team's success.

"I think that's the beauty of our staff is that it's a melting pot staff from a bunch of different teams and have a ton of experience," said Kafka. "The collaboration part of that is – you might see a look, present it to the staff and someone might already have experience in that and kind of know maybe the bones are buried on the play, whether good or bad. Then, you can prepare, show, add something from someone else. That's been the best part about this staff is these guys are super creative and they're really collaborative as far as the knowledge and breadth of football they know."

The Giants enter Week 7 with the fourth-ranked rushing attack with an average of 163 yards per game. The Giants also rank eighth in the league with an average of 5.0 yards per carry. In the red zone, the Giants have scored a touchdown on 10 of 17 attempts (58.8 percent), which ranks 14th.

View photos from Wednesday's practice as the Giants prepare for their Week 7 matchup against the Jaguars.

2. Lawrence a 'force' up front

In a season full of bright spots, Dexter Lawrence's development has been one of the brightest. The defensive lineman is in his fourth NFL season and has already made a massive jump this year. Through six games, Lawrence has registered four sacks and 10 quarterback hits. The sack total matches his previous career-best mark set in 2020, while the QB hits are one shy of his personal best. As his defensive coordinator told the media Thursday, Lawrence has been a 'force' in the middle of the Giants defense.

"He's the player that we thought he would be," said Martindale. "He's using his length. He's using his power. He's converting from the run game to pass rush on play-action pass. He's being the force that we thought he would be."

In the first three games of the season, Lawrence did not play more than 81 percent of the team's defensive snaps. However in each of the last three weeks, each of which resulted in Giants victories, the defensive lineman played 90+ percent of defensive snaps. Prior to this season, he had never played 90 percent of snaps in a game. Although Martindale expressed some concern about the increase in playing time, he indicated that it's hard to take Lawrence off the field when he's playing at such a high level.

"He's in great shape right now," the coordinator said about Lawrence. "It does concern you for the 17-game schedule, so we're going to try to find spots to spot him some reps. But when he's playing as well as he is, it's so hard to –. It's like if you had a Rolls-Royce, wouldn't you want to drive it everywhere? It's just, he's playing really well. And he wants to go back in. We're going to try to peel back on some of those reps if we can; it always depends on where we're at in a game."

3. Bellinger 'getting better each and every day'

Coming out of college, Daniel Bellinger was not necessarily known for his receiving abilities. Bellinger caught just 68 total passes in his four seasons at San Diego State, and while he did see his numbers increase each year, he never topped 31 receptions, 357 yards or three touchdowns. Six games into his NFL career, Bellinger has already scored three touchdowns (although one was on the ground) and is on pace to top both of his collegiate-best marks. While Bellinger's receiving production might be surprising some people around the NFL, the Giants have been aware of it since the pre-draft process.

"I think you saw a little bit of that on tape, you saw a little bit in the workouts and then our scouting department and (general manager) Joe (Schoen) did a great job of finding him and targeting him," Kafka said on Thursday. "We're glad we have him, we can develop him and you can see how he's getting better each and every day… You saw the athleticism on tape and at his pro day. That wasn't surprising that he put it on the field and kind of integrate into the offense and just see how well of a fit he was."

After the Giants selected Bellinger in the fourth-round, many compared the pick to when the Buffalo Bills selected Dawson Knox in the third-round of the 2019 draft. Daboll is widely credited for helping with Knox's improvement in his first three seasons, which culminated with nine receiving touchdowns last season. While both Daboll and Kafka have certainly played a role in Bellinger's quick growth, the offensive coordinator made sure to give credit to tight ends coach Andy Bischoff, as well.

"I think coach Bischoff does a great job with all the tight ends in developing them and trying to figure out their strengths, figure out their weaknesses," said Kafka. "Whatever those strengths are, build on that. With the weaknesses that show up, continue to work through those and put them in a good spot so that those weaknesses aren't shown as much. Coach Bischoff is a great guy, he spends a ton of time with those guys and the players buy into it. That's why we're here, to help our guys get better in any way we can."

4. Familiarity with Doug Pederson

Last week, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale faced his former team in the Baltimore Ravens. Martindale spent 10 seasons with the Ravens, leaving Baltimore only a few weeks before joining the Giants. It may not be quite the same situation this week, but offensive coordinator Mike Kafka has some ties to the Jacksonville Jaguars sideline.

Kafka began his NFL playing career with the Philadelphia Eagles from 2010-11. During those two seasons, Doug Pederson, Jacksonville's head coach, was serving on Andy Reid's coaching staff, first as offensive quality control coach and then as quarterbacks coach. Because of their roles, Kafka and Pederson worked closely together, obviously, as Pederson was once an NFL quarterback, as well.

"Doug is great," said the offensive coordinator. "Great person. He's a great football coach. He sees the game through the quarterback's eyes being an ex-quarterback, so that was always great. His meetings were very detailed. I loved playing for Doug."

On the field, Pederson has helped transform the Jaguars' offense. Jacksonville ranked last in points and 28th in yards last year. Through six games, the unit ranks 15th in points and 11th in yards, while second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence has looked significantly better. The 2021 first overall pick has completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 1,397 yards (232.8 yards per game), nine touchdowns and four interceptions, and added two scores on the ground in last week's loss. Martindale believes Pederson was the perfect coach to help Lawrence improve his game.

"I think that it's a perfect marriage between he and Doug and Mike McCoy, the quarterback coach," said the defensive coordinator. "Doug has always had a good quarterback and they always play well with his offense. It's pretty cool to see just because of how much I respect Doug and Trevor because he was the first player taken in the draft. You know he has talent."

5. Saquon 'managing' shoulder; Toney getting better

Saquon Barkley has been tremendous this season. The fifth-year running back leads the NFL with 771 total yards from scrimmage, and is the only player with 85+ total yards in every game this year. Barkley was briefly forced out of the Week 5 win over Green Bay when he injured his shoulder, but returned to the field and ended up scoring the game-winning touchdown. The talented back was a limited participant in practice last week and ended up playing 88 percent of the snaps against Baltimore, finishing with 95 total yards and a touchdown. Barkley has once again been limited at practice this week, and while he did call the injury "annoying", he isn't worried about it affecting his productivity.

"t's annoying, but it's not something that's going to stop me from going out there and being able to produce," said Barkley. "Just like anything throughout the season, it's every year – it's football, something is going to happen. Just got to stay with it. The trainers have been doing a really good job of setting up a program for me and also getting in the strength room, setting up a great program too. Just stick with it."

Meanwhile, Kadarius Toney has been sidelined since Week 2 with a hamstring injury. The second-year receiver spoke to the media today and said he's been able to sprint and cut. While he could not put a timetable on his potential return, he did tell reporters he's "getting better."

The only change on Thursday's injury report was the addition of safety Xavier McKinney, who's absence from practice was not injury related.


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