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Cover 4

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Cover 4: What to look for after the Giants' bye week

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As the team returns from a late bye week, the Giants.com crew discusses what to look for down the final stretch of the season:

John Schmeelk: My primary focus over the final stretch of the season will be on the continuing development of the Giants' young talent base, including right tackle Evan Neal. As general manager Joe Schoen said during his press conference, Neal "has to play better, and he knows that." As the seventh overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, he has the ability to be a cornerstone offensive player, but injuries and inconsistent play has held him back. I would love to see him get healthy and put together a string of consistent play in the final month of the 2023 season.

The continuing development of wide receivers Wan'Dale Robinson and Jalin Hyatt will also be critical as the Giants make decisions at the position in the draft and free agency in the offseason. Depending on Darren Waller's health, can Daniel Bellinger show whether he can handle the full-time role of an NFL tight end? The more snaps John Michael Schmitz gets as a starting center will also help him be a player better next year.

On defense, DJ Davidson and Jordon Riley could get more opportunities at defensive tackle to show what they can do. In the secondary, Deonte Banks has played more zone defense and is being asked to cover less one-on-one against the opponent's No. 1 receiver. Cor'Dale Flott continues to show he can cover in the slot, while Dane Belton is in a consistent role as the team's third safety. Xavier McKinney, while a young veteran, is heading to free agency, and the Giants have to make a decision on whether they bring him back in the winter.

Dan Salomone: As Andrew Thomas said when players returned from the bye week, "football starts after Thanksgiving." Unfortunately for the Giants, the first 12 games also counted, but his point was valid. "You never know what could happen" with five games remaining – all against conference opponents. The left tackle echoed the comments made by general manager Joe Schoen before the team dispersed for the week.

"Obviously, not where we want to be right now at 4-8, but I am proud of the guys and the way they've continued to battle and compete over the last few weeks," Schoen said. "When things are bad, they can go one of two ways, and I'm really proud of the way the guys have continued to come in and compete. We've seen some progress over the last couple weeks and the results to show. We've got five games left against NFC teams, against four different teams (the Giants play the Eagles twice), and we're not out of it."

After a memorable first season, the new regime was tasked with doing the most difficult thing in professional football: sustain success. They cautioned before the season that every team begins with a clean slate, and the 2-8 start put a spotlight on that hard truth. But, coming off back-to-back wins, the Giants don't seem to be following the second path that Schoen mentioned.

Lance Medow: With five games left in the season following the bye, I think the biggest element to watch is the development and production of individual players, starting with Tommy DeVito.  When Joe Schoen addressed the media last week, he mentioned DeVito is the only healthy quarterback under contract for next season, meaning it's extremely valuable to continue evaluating what they have in him to determine where he fits into the equation moving forward.  Although DeVito has shown some nice flashes, the sample size is still extremely small as he's only appeared in five games with three starts. 

The overall offensive output goes hand in hand with quarterback play, and the Giants need to manufacture more points.  New York is averaging 13 points per game (31st NFL) and has scored 20 or more just twice in 12 contests.  Each of the Giants' remaining opponents are averaging at least 21 points per game, and the Packers, who are up first, have won three straight in which they've kept three respectable offenses in check to 22 points or fewer.  In this league, you can't consistently score in the teens and expect your defense to pile up takeaways to secure victories.  That formula isn't realistic, which is why the offense is the facet to watch down the stretch.

Matt Citak: The Giants sit at 4-8 with five games remaining. Given the state of the NFC, the playoffs are not out of reach. Entering Week 13, the Giants are just two games out from the final Wild Card spot. At the same time, the Giants also find themselves right on the border of a top five pick in next year's draft. It's crazy how the NFL works sometimes.

Despite the chance of a late-season playoff run, the Giants can also develop some of the team's younger players for 2024 and beyond. The Giants will be faced with some big decisions this offseason, ones that could alter the foreseeable future of the franchise. That is why it is crucial for general manager Joe Schoen and the rest of the front office to evaluate cornerstone pieces to build around. Tommy DeVito has played well since taking over as the starting quarterback for the last three games, but can he keep it going against some tougher opponents in the final five weeks of the season? If so, could the undrafted rookie earn himself the backup quarterback job in 2024? We've seen how important the backup quarterback position is across the league this year, and some strong play from DeVito to finish the season could give the organization confidence that the 25-year-old can hold down that spot next year.

In addition to some of the young players, the Giants also have a few key players set to hit free agency, most notably Saquon Barkley and Xavier McKinney. It will be interesting to see how all of the upcoming free agents perform in the final five games and how that might affect the front office's plans. The Giants will continue to try to win each and every game, but they always have eyes towards the future, too.

View photos of the New York Giants' 2023 rookie class in action.

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