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5 storylines to follow after the bye week

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The Giants finished the first half of the season on a high note, defeating the Las Vegas Raiders, 23-16, at MetLife Stadium. Daniel Jones completed 75 percent of his passes, the offense rushed for 149 yards and Xavier McKinney recorded two interceptions of Derek Carr, one of which he returned 41 yards for a touchdown.

The win gave the Giants two victories over the last three weeks, with the one loss coming by three points against the Chiefs in prime time at Arrowhead Stadium. During that stretch, the defense has surrendered an average of 13 points per game while forcing six total turnovers. Heading into the Week 10 bye, the Giants are one of just two teams in the NFL with at least one turnover in every game this season (Indianapolis Colts).

With eight games remaining on the schedule, here are five storylines to follow after the Giants' Week 10 bye.

Getting healthier

The bye is coming at an opportune time for the Giants. Heading into the Week 9 matchup against the Raiders, the offense welcomed back two of its top playmakers in Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney. However, each receiver was on the field for just 55 percent of the team's offensive snaps, combining for three catches and 37 yards. The week of rest should allow both playmakers to get close to 100 percent for the second half of the season.

The team is hopeful that two of its offensive starters will be able to make their returns when the Giants take the field in Tampa Bay in Week 11. Running back Saquon Barkley has missed the last four games due to an ankle injury suffered against the Cowboys in Week 5, while left tackle Andrew Thomas was placed on injured reserve after hurting his foot against the Rams in Week 6. Both players still have some ways to go before they're able to suit up, but Coach Joe Judge expressed optimism that both will be back for Week 11.

"I'd say for both guys based on the conversations that I've had today with trainers, I'm hopeful that we would be able to have both guys back for Tampa," Judge said on Monday. "I think we've got to give them an opportunity this week."

Barkley's replacement, Devontae Booker, left Sunday's game in the fourth quarter with a hip injury, although he was cleared to return to the game. Wide receiver Sterling Shepard (quad) and linebacker Lorenzo Carter (ankle) also missed the game against the Raiders, but it remains to be seen if the week off is enough time for either one to return to action.

From Daniel Jones' one-handed catch on a trick play to Xavier McKinney's pick-six to the OT thriller in New Orleans, re-live the best moments from the first half of the season in this must-see photo gallery.

DJ's continued development

It's been an up-and-down season for Daniel Jones. The third-year quarterback got off to a fast start, averaging 296 passing yards per game with four touchdowns and just one interception through the first four games of the season. But over the last four weeks, Jones has topped 240 passing yards just once while throwing four interceptions with four touchdowns.

As the Giants enter their Week 10 bye, Jones is on pace to shatter his previous career-high mark in passing yards of 3,027 (set in his rookie campaign). Through nine games, Jones has 2,059 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions. His 64.8 completion percentage is more than two points higher than his previous high-mark of 62.5 percent last year.

"Overall, I think a lot of the things I wanted to do better, I think I've done some of them and that's been encouraging," Jones said on Tuesday. "I think at times I can be better protecting the ball and getting it out quicker and I think those are things I'm always focused on, so just being more consistent with that and continuing to work to improve."

Continuing the defensive surge

During last year's late-season run that had the team fall just short of making the playoffs, the Giants' defense put the team on its back and helped win some big games. After some struggles in the first six weeks of this season, we have started to see that same defense emerge over the last three weeks.

"I feel pretty good. I think the areas that I've talked about before – red area, third down, keeping those points down, two-minute – I think those are areas of emphasis and areas we improved on," defensive back Logan Ryan told reporters Tuesday. "I still think we can improve our tackling. We've been getting more turnovers, which is always the goal of defense, to get them off the field and make them kick field goals if they're in that position and get the ball. We've been doing a better job of that and we've got to continue doing that."

Entering Week 10, the Giants have surrendered touchdowns on 51.4 percent of opponents' trips inside the red zone, which is the sixth-best mark in the NFL. Over the last three weeks, the Giants have allowed opponents to convert on a mere 11 of 39 attempts on third down, an impressive 28.2 conversion percentage. This has helped the unit bring its season-long third down mark down to 38.1 percent, the 10th-lowest figure in the league.

Which young players will step up?

The Giants have gotten impressive performances from some of their young players in the first half of the season. Second-year safety Xavier McKinney has registered two multi-interception games, including a Pick 6 against the Raiders last week. McKinney has five interceptions in his first 15 games, becoming the first Giants player to accomplish this feat since Will Allen in 2001 and only the fourth in franchise history.

"He's a really good player, he's a smart player, he works hard," Ryan said about the young safety. "He's productive because he's good at finding the ball in the air. The good thing about Xavier is he had a ton of success in college obviously, and he came from a program that is used to that. He's able to come to work each and every day and he doesn't seem like he's acting any differently with the success. He seems like it's what he expects of himself and what we expect of him."

Joining McKinney in the Giants record books is rookie linebacker Azeez Ojulari. The 20-year-old started his NFL career by recording a sack in each of his first three games, becoming the first rookie in franchise history to reach this milestone and the first in the NFL since Myles Garrett did it in 2017. Ojulari's 5.5 sacks are tied with Leonard Williams for the team lead, and is the highest among NFL rookies.

First-round pick Kadarius Toney has also shown flashes of his immense potential. In Weeks 4 and 5, the young wide receiver was targeted 22 times, catching 16 passes for 267 yards. He showed off his abilities as a former quarterback in Week 8, completing a 19-yard pass to Sterling Shepard, and has also been used several times in the return game.

Before being injured, Andrew Thomas was enjoying a strong start to his second season. Thomas has earned a 76.4 pass block grade from Pro Football Focus this year, good for the 15th-best mark among NFL tackles. Meanwhile, rookie linebacker Quincy Roche has begun stepping up on the edge over the last two weeks, recording seven tackles (three solo), three quarterback hits and the strip-sack of Carr that sealed the Week 9 victory.

Over the last two games, the Giants have seen the NFL debuts of their third and fourth-round draft picks. Cornerback Aaron Robinson has played on 16 defensive snaps in two weeks, while linebacker Elerson Smith played two special teams snaps against Las Vegas. Those two, along with 2020 draft picks Matt Peart and Darnay Holmes, could be leaned on in the second half of the season.

Take advantage of second-half schedule

Regardless of how the season started, the Giants still have a chance to make a second-half push. Of the team's final eight games, only three matchups are against clubs that currently sport a record above .500. Those games are the Week 11 Monday night showdown against the 6-2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (in Tampa), the Week 14 matchup against the 5-3 Chargers (in Los Angeles), and the Week 15 clash against the 6-2 Cowboys (at home).

The Giants' other five games come against the 3-6 Philadelphia Eagles (twice), the 2-7 Miami Dolphins (in Miami), the 3-6 Chicago Bears (in Chicago) and the 2-6 Washington Football Team (at home). And remember, the Giants hold the first and fourth-round picks of the Bears and the third-round pick of the Dolphins in the 2022 draft, meaning wins against those two clubs would enhance the value of those draft picks.

"The biggest thing we're focused on right now is just us, improving ourselves as a team and going 1-0 each week," Judge said Tuesday. "You do that, it'll take care of itself in the big picture. We're so far away from the end of the season where all of that stuff really comes together. Are you conscious of what's going on in the rest of the league? You are, but are you focused on it? No. Really, right now the most important thing is we play our best football and we match up against whoever we play."

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