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Cover 4: Key players as Giants look to clinch playoff berth

COVER-4

The Giants.com crew discusses key players heading into another playoff-clinching opportunity this week against the Indianapolis Colts:

John Schmeelk: There was an abundance of Christmas spirit that allowed my three compatriots to select first in this week's Cover 4, and they were kind enough to leave me some very nice low-hanging fruit - Saquon Barkley.

The Giants, at their core, are still a running team. In games when Saquon Barkley has rushed for at least 70 yards, they are 8-2. This is not a case where in those games the Giants had leads and were running it late in the game to dilate the stats. They were winning those games because of Barkley and big runs he made in those games. In games Barkley had a run of 20+ yards the Giants are 5-3.

It was encouraging that the Giants were able to pass the ball as well as they did against the Vikings on Sunday, but all those yards came along with a lost fumble and interception that eventually cost them the game.

Against a team like the Colts which has had trouble scoring points this year, the Giants should be able to control the ball on the ground, focus on playing a better brand of football and win the turnover battle, and walk away with a playoff clinching win.

Dan Salomone: For the vast majority of Giants players, this has been the most important stretch of football in their NFL careers. And, fair or not, quarterbacks shoulder the burden of wins and losses, agony and defeat. Daniel Jones has accepted that responsibility since the moment he took the torch from Eli Manning. His first few seasons were devoid of meaningful games in December and January, but that's not the case in the first year under Brian Daboll. Now the Giants can clinch a playoff berth by winning one of their last two games, starting New Year's Day at home against Indianapolis.

"It's a huge opportunity for us," Jones said after the last-second loss to the Vikings, which delayed a potential playoff-clinching moment by at least a week. "We're looking forward to it, and we'll do everything we can to prepare as well as we can this week and get ready for a good opponent on Sunday. Take it day by day, do everything we can, get the most out of each day so that we are as prepared as we can be, and then cut loose Sunday. We're excited for the opportunity."

Giants.com takes a look at the Pro Bowl through the years.

Lance Medow: If there's one area where the Colts have had major issues with this season, it's on the offensive line as they've surrendered 49 sacks, fourth-highest in the NFL. Azeez Ojulari (ankle) left the Vikings game and his status is up in the air, so all signs point to Kayon Thibodeaux needing to have a big day vs. Indianapolis game. The Giants will likely see Nick Foles under center after makes his season debut on Monday Night Football against the Chargers. Foles isn't a major threat to run but he does have a strong arm and the best way to fluster him is to provide pressure. That's where Thibodeaux comes in as he's recorded nine quarterback hits and two sacks over the past five games.

The Giants will need Thibodeaux to be a disruptive force, especially if they want to alleviate the secondary. The VIkings' Kirk Cousins threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns in last Sunday's game and while the Colts don't have the same firepower as Minnesota, they have several big targets for Foles (such as Michael Pittman Jr, Alec Pierce and Parris Campbell). With their top running back Jonathan Taylor out for the season, one of the reasons they inserted Foles as the starting quarterback is to get the passing game going and Nick won't hesitate airing it out. That's why it all circles back to Thibodeaux to make his presence felt.

Matt Citak: Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams could be the keys to the Giants clinching their first playoff appearance since 2016 on Sunday.

Despite star running back Jonathan Taylor going on injured reserve, the Colts still make it no secret that they want to run the football. In their first game without Taylor, Indianapolis registered 43 rush attempts for 171 yards against the Vikings in Week 15. Jeff Saturday's team plays on Monday Night Football in Week 16 so we'll see how their offense looks in that matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers, but given LA's poor run defense, it's reasonable to assume they'll want to establish the run early and often. This is especially true considering Indianapolis is turning to veteran QB Nick Foles for the first time this year on MNF.

Whether it's in the run game or the pass rush, the Giants will need Lawrence and Williams to bring their A game on New Year's Day. The two made their presence felt in Minnesota on Saturday. According to Pro Football Focus, Lawrence registered seven total pressures on Kirk Cousins and three stops in the run game. Meanwhile, Williams added five total pressures (including a sack) and two run stops. They finished first and second on the team, respectively, in pressures and helped contribute to the team's total of 23. Additionally, Lawrence tied with Jihad Ward for the most run stops on the defense, with Williams finishing right behind them. With Azeez Ojulari's status up in the air following his ankle injury in Minnesota, the Giants will need Williams and Lawrence to generate as much pressure as possible from the interior while continuing their strong play in the run game.

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