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Keys to Victory: How to start second half strong

KEYS-TO-VICTORY

Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll delivered the same message before the bye week: 6-2 is great, but there's still a long way to go.

The grind begins now.

The Giants, who went 3-1 in both the first and second "quarters" of the season, look to build off their best start since 2012 with back-to-back home games against the Texans and Lions out of the break. Houston, despite its 1-6-1 record, has played its share of close games with an average differential of eight points. The Giants are no strangers in the drama department, becoming the first team in NFL history to start 6-1 or better and have each of their first seven games decided by one possession. That is, until they lost to the Seahawks, 27-13, in Seattle.

Here are three things the Giants must do to start the second half of the season on the right foot and keep pace in a competitive NFC East race:

Get angry

Wink Martindale doesn't know who said or did something to Texans running back Dameon Pierce in his past, but the Giants' defensive coordinator proclaimed he "might be the angriest runner in the league." The fourth-round pick out of Florida leads all rookies with 776 yards from scrimmage. It will be the second consecutive game where the Giants face an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate. In their last time out, they went against Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker III, who leads the 2022 rookie class in touchdowns.

Martindale compared the "old school" Pierce to Earl Campbell (Heisman Trophy winner and Pro Football Hall of Fam member) and Jamal Lewis (2003 AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year).

"He's one of those big power backs that has great balance," Martindale said. "Runs mad every time he touches it. Has quick feet. It's going to be a tough assignment."

The Texans are saying the same thing about the Giants' running back. Despite coming off a season-low performance, Saquon Barkley still ranks third in the league in yards from scrimmage. Whichever one has the better game will go a long way in deciding the outcome.

Communicate

While it all starts with Pierce, the Giants have speed outside, especially with Brandin Cooks. The veteran receiver, who has six 1,000-yard seasons to his name, has not played since Week 8 and did not practice to start this week due to a wrist injury. The Giants still expect him to see him on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

"We anticipate it just like we did 14 [Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf] in Seattle was going to play," Martindale said. "Everybody's telling us he's going to miss, and we just go until they give the final 'who's up and who's down' on Sunday. But I anticipate him playing, yes."

Whether or not he plays, the Giants have the challenge of moving forward without safety Xavier McKinney, who is also a team captain and the defensive play-caller on the field. Julian Love has assumed those duties and will wear the green dot on game day.

"I think there will be an effect," Martindale said. "It could be a good effect or a bad effect. We're going to find that out. I always talk to the defensive guys about we control the narrative of every situation. There's the situations, series of events, if you will, during a game that you've got to handle and series of events during the season. I think we've done a good job of that so far, for the most part. It's just another injury that we're going to have to deal with and get ready to go play the Texans."

Take care of the ball

For all the complexity of the modern NFL, the Giants' formula in the first half was simple: outlast the opponent by running the ball while also taking care of it. The Giants are 5-0 when they have a turnover differential of even or better. When they fall into the red, they are 1-2. Daniel Jones' two interceptions are tied for the second-fewest among 34 qualified quarterbacks.

Stats to Know

Barkley leads all running backs with 286 rush yards before contact in 2022,

Houston's Davis Mills has zero games with a 100.0+ passer rating in 2022, the only quarterback to start each of his team's games without such a game.

The Giants have trailed in each of their eight games in 2022. Of the 12 teams with at least eight such games, they are the only ones .500 or better. The other 11 are a combined 30-61-2.

Re-live the season with the best photos from the Giants' 2022 playoff campaign.