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Players to Watch: Julian Love, Dane Belton step up


The second half of the season begins Sunday with the Houston Texans coming to MetLife Stadium.

Coming out of the bye, the Giants have an opportunity to rebound from their Week 8 loss when they host Lovie Smith's 1-6-1 squad. The Texans are in the middle of a three-game stretch against the NFC East, as they lost to the Eagles last week and battle the Commanders at home in Week 11.

It's been nearly a month since the Giants took the field in front of the home crowd, as their last game at MetLife Stadium was in Week 6 (Oct. 16) against the Ravens. But Sunday's game begins a stretch of four home games in five weeks.

Here are five players to watch in the Week 10 matchup.

RB Saquon Barkley

No matter what way you look at it, it's clear that Saquon Barkley put together a tremendous first half of the season. His 779 rushing yards, 97.4 rushing yards per game and 968 total yards from scrimmage each rank third in the NFL. In addition to his productivity, Barkley has also done a great job of staying on the field this season. He played at least 80 percent of the team's offensive snaps in seven of the eight games, all while totaling the second-most rushing attempts in the league at 163. Barkley also leads the Giants with 28 receptions, which he has taken for 189 yards.

Barkley is faced with a tremendous opportunity to start the second half, as the Texans have struggled mightily against the run this year. Heading into Week 10, Houston ranks last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed at 180.6 yards per game. They've also surrendered 12 rushing touchdowns and 5.5 yards per carry, which comes in at No. 29 and No. 30, respectively. Seven of Houston's eight opponents have rushed for more than 135 yards, including two games of 280+ yards on the ground.

WR Wan'Dale Robinson

Wan'Dale Robinson looked primed for a big role in the offense during training camp. A knee injury suffered in the season opener forced him to miss the next four games, but Robinson returned in Week 6 and caught three passes for 37 yards and a touchdown on just 15 snaps. The rookie played 69 percent of the offensive snaps in each of the next two games prior to the bye and finished with eight receptions for 65 yards during that stretch. Robinson could have an even bigger impact in the second half of the season.

"Wan'Dale is continuing to grow in the offense as a young player," offensive coordinator Mike Kafka said Wednesday. "He's doing all the right things in the classroom and getting on the same page with the quarterback. That's really important for a young guy and then learning how to be a pro. I think he's done a good job of that to date, and I think he'll continue to do that throughout this week."

Fellow wide receiver Kenny Golladay could also be on the field for the Giants this Sunday. Golladay has been out since injuring his knee in the Week 4 game against the Bears, but the veteran has made it back to the practice field this week and could return against the Texans.

"That's really my main goal, is to hit the ground running," Golladay said about his potential return this weekend. "I don't want to come in the game and act like I lost step as far as playbook wise, like I'm not mentally prepared. So, even when I wasn't playing, I was making sure I was mentally prepared the entire time as if I was playing. That's really my main goal, when I do get in there it's not like a fall off."

DL Leonard Williams

Heading into this season, Leonard Williams was one the league's iron men, having never missed a game due to injury in his first seven seasons. A knee injury suffered in Week 2 forced him to miss the first three games of his career, but Williams returned in Week 6 and played 92 percent of the defensive snaps. It appeared as if it took the veteran lineman a few weeks to get going, as he enjoyed his best game of the season in Seattle right before the bye. Williams finished with eight total tackles, tied for the most on the team, his first sack of the season and an impressive five quarterback hits.

Following the time off, Williams should enter the second half of the season refreshed and ready to roll. He and the rest of the Giants defense will be faced with a tough challenge in Week 10 as they attempt to contain Houston's talented running back, Dameon Pierce. The rookie back's stats are not too far behind Barkley, as the 22-year-old enters this matchup ranking fifth in the league with 84.8 rushing yards per game. Additionally, he has a league-high 26 broken tackles and ranks third with 50 missed tackles forced and 403 rushing yards after contact.

"I don't know who said something to him or did something to him to make him so angry, but that might be the angriest runner in the league," said defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. "He is, I'll give you my comparisons again: Old, old school, Earl Campbell, Jamal Lewis. (Pierce is) one of those big power backs that has great balance. Runs mad every time he touches it. Has quick feet. It's going to be (a) tough assignment."

S Julian Love

The Giants received some unfortunate news this week as Xavier McKinney was put on the reserve/non-football injury list following a hand injury he suffered during the bye week. Although McKinney's absence is certainly a blow to the defense, it provides an opportunity for several other players to step into larger roles, starting with Julian Love.

Love has started every game this season and leads the team with 58 total tackles. The fourth-year safety has lined up all over the field for the defense and has racked up a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, an interception, two pass breakups and three tackles for loss. Love has been a consistent force this season, but will play a new role starting Sunday. Martindale confirmed Wednesday that Love will wear the green dot, meaning he will receive the play calls from the sideline and relay them to the defense on the field.

"I'm very comfortable with Julian – have been since day one with both those safeties (Love and McKinney)," said Martindale. "And they're both bright, young players that are going to have great careers. So, I'm excited for Julian to have this opportunity. He does a great job communicating on the back end, and I'm glad we have him."

S Dane Belton

Another safety that will be thrust into a larger role while McKinney is sidelined is Dane Belton. The rookie safety looked impressive at the start of training camp before a clavicle injury forced him to miss the entire preseason and the season opener. Since making his debut in Week 2, Belton has totaled 19 tackles (15 solo), one tackle for loss, one QB hit, and one pass breakup. He has also recovered two fumbles, including one on the very first play of his NFL career. 

The fourth-round pick was a ball hawk at Iowa last year as he finished his junior season with five interceptions. Martindale acknowledged on Wednesday that Belton will get more playing time now. The defensive coordinator has been impressed with the rookie safety's professionalism ever since the team drafted him.

"He's a student of the game," Martindale said. "He takes it very serious as a profession. That's what jumps out at me. He's a really mature kid for being a rookie. I don't know if you all have had a chance to visit with him yet or not, but he's very quiet. You got to get him talking louder and things like that, but I just like how he approaches the game. The plays will come for him because he keeps doing the right thing. He's not an error repeater; he doesn't make the same mistake twice. I think as a rookie, he's ahead of the game."

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