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Cover 4: What Sunday means for playoff race


The crew reacts to Sunday's loss and looks ahead to the final four-game stretch:

John Schmeelk: Before getting to a positive take from Sunday's game, here's one other important factor to keep in mind - the Giants have to run the ball better with their running backs. They are going to struggle to score points and win games if they have to depend on their passing attack to move the ball and create explosive plays.

Since the Seattle game, Saquon Barkley has had one game where he ran for more than 63 yards and averaged more than 3.5 yards per carry. It is no coincidence that Houston is the only win the Giants have since traveling to Seattle. During that same stretch of six games, he only has nine runs of 10 yards or more. Barkley had 17 such runs over the first seven games of the season. Only two of Barkley's eight runs of 20+ yards have come over the past six games.

This is not a Barkley issue. Teams are doing everything they can to take away those plays from him, and often times a successful run game comes down to box count and angles that opponents can take away if they put enough resources into it. The Giants need to force opponents to get out of those alignments by burning them for assigning those resources. We'll see if they can.

Not a whole lot went well for the Giants in Sunday's lopsided loss to the Commanders, but one positive development was the continued production from Azeez Ojulari and Kayvon Thibodeaux. Ojulari has three sacks since returning from his calf injury against the Commanders on Dec. 4. He won against a left guard (with an assist from Kayvon Thibodeaux) for his first sack against Philadephia. Thibodeaux won't get any stats on the play, but he has the quickest get-off at the snap and won inside, forcing a holding penalty on tackle Jordan Mailata. Hurts began to slide away from him and into the oncoming Ojulari. Ojulari's second sack was an effort play, staying with it and eventually working his way past tight end Jack Stoll and getting to Jalen Hurts, who saw good coverage and held the ball too long.

Ojulari has fresh legs and is showing that he might be taking a second-year jump after a promising rookie season. We are also seeing Thibodeaux have his most productive games as the season reaches its zenith and he gets further away from his preseason knee injury. If these two players can continue on this trajectory, the team may have their pair of quality edge rushers for a long time.

Dan Salomone: For all that Brian Daboll has achieved in his short time with the Giants, he is fully aware of the one thing that is missing so far – a divisional win. Yes, despite the team's best start in more than a decade, the Giants are 0-3-1 against a resurgent NFC East. This would be a good week to get off the schneid. The Giants are coming off their worst defeat of the season to the best team in the NFL, but they still have an opportunity this week to gain a significant advantage in what is a close race for the NFC's final two playoff berths. For the second time in three weeks, they take on the Washington Commanders, who have a matching 7-5-1 record. The Giants and Commanders currently occupy the sixth and seventh spots in the NFC, with the Seahawks (7-6) and Lions (6-7) the next two looking in. Fittingly, this game was flexed to a prime-time slot on Sunday Night Football.

Lance Medow: Entering Week 14, the Eagles suffered one loss to the Washington Commanders in Week 10, 32-21. It took a season-high four turnovers by Philadelphia as well as 16 points off those mishaps and a plus 20-minute advantage in time of possession for Washington to pull out the victory - that's the type of challenge the Giants were facing. And New York had no takeaways, lost time of possession and fell behind by three touchdowns, a recipe that won't help you remain competitive against the Eagles, who scored six touchdowns and two field goals in 10 legitimate possessions.

Based on what lies ahead with their four upcoming opponents, the Giants need to clean up their run defense as that will likely determine their level of success. The Eagles ran for 253 yards and averaged over eight yards per carry, prior to that, the Commanders had 165 yards on the ground with over 4.5 yards per run, Dallas piled up 169 rushing yards and the Lions 160. Those four teams also combined for 10 rushing scores and 12 touchdowns in 15 red zone opportunities. When you can run the ball effectively, that usually means you can finish inside the opponents' 20. New York will now have to solve Brian Robinson Jr and Antonio Gibson, Dalvin Cook, Jonathan Taylor and the Eagles' plethora of backs in the final four contests. If they want to put those teams' quarterbacks in precarious spots, Wink Martindale's unit will have to contain the ground attack – it will tell an awful lot about the tone of each of those games and the Giants' playoff hopes.

Matt Citak: It will be over a month since the Giants last won a game by the time they kick off Sunday. The Giants have lost three games in addition to the tie against the Commanders to drop them to 7-5-1. Although there are several similarities between the l\past four games, one of the most glaring things in common between the four outings has been the defense's struggles against the run.

During this recent rough patch, the defense has allowed an average of 186.8 yards on the ground per game with each of their opponents going for 160+ rushing yards. This came after just two of their first nine opponents topped 150. Over the same duration, the defense has also surrendered 10 rushing touchdowns. This has led to the Giants' defense dropping into the bottom six in yards, yards per attempt and touchdowns allowed on the ground this season.

Whether or not Wink Martindale's unit can improve in this area could go a long way in determining whether or not the Giants reach the postseason. Over the final four weeks of the season, the defense will face Washington's Brian Robinson and Antonio Gibson, Minnesota's Dalvin Cook, Indianapolis' Jonathan Taylor and a rematch against Philadelphia's elite run game. The Eagles could have the No. 1 seed locked up by the season finale, which could lead to them resting some starters. Either way, the next three opponents have a ton of talent at the running back position. Washington ran the ball 36 times against the Giants in Week 13, and it wouldn't be surprising to see them put together a similar game plan for this weekend's big matchup. Getting Leonard Williams back in the lineup would go a long way in helping the run defense, so we'll have to keep an eye on the injury report throughout the week.


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