New York is limping into Foxborough as rookie quarterback Daniel Jones will have a depleted amount of weapons at his disposal. The team has already ruled out running backs Saquon Barkley and Wayne Gallman along with receiver Sterling Shepard and tight end Evan Engram. The Patriots, meanwhile, have cruised to a 5-0 record on the year by leaning on their defense, which is currently on a historic pace.
While New England is directly in Super Bowl contention and looking to further their chances of that goal on Thursday night, the Giants have plenty to play for in this game as they continue to see the maturation of Jones under center.
I joined Will Brinson to break this matchup down further on the Pick Six Podcast. Give it a listen below and be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts:
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When the Giants have the ball
The Giants have been handed a raw deal over these last two weeks. Not only are they facing extremely tough defenses in the Vikings in Week 5 and now the Patriots in Week 6, but the injury bug has taken a big bite out of Daniel Jones’ offensive weapons. As we mentioned above, Barkley, Gallman, Engram and Shepard are all slated to mss this contest and they represent New York’s two leading rushers and two leading receivers on the year thus far. With that in mind, Daniel Jones will be playing on Thursday with one hand tied behind his back, and it may not exactly the same type of offensive attack that we’ve seen in weeks past.
Against Minnesota, Jones played far better than his stat line (21 of 38 for 182 yards, a touchdown and an interception) would suggest. The rookie was under pressure throughout the afternoon by Minnesota’s front, and the New York offensive line didn’t do him many favors as he was sacked four times on the day. Jones was able to bail that unit out on occasion as he was able to sense pressure, roll out and avoid the sack, but what was most impressive was his poise in the pocket overall. Jones was particularly strong on third down, converting on 50% of those situations against the Vikings.
He also had a beautiful touchdown throw to fellow rookie Darius Slayton for 35 yards and put it in a spot where only he could get it in stride. While Jones may be down a few weapons, he’s built up a rapport with Slayton and will have Golden Tate for his second game since coming back from suspension, so there are still some playmakers for him in what is unquestionably his toughest test of the season.
What is a concern for Jones, particularly against a veteran defense like the Patriots, is the rookie’s cadence at the line. It appears to be a bit elementary, which allowed the Vikings (especially Everson Griffen vs. Nate Solder) to have fantastic jumps off the line of scrimmage to pressure Jones. This is certainly fixable and really is just part of the growing pains of a young quarterback, but something to note heading into this matchup.
As for the running game without Barkley and Gallman, New York will trot out Jonathan Hilliman and Elijhaa Penny, who combined for 35 yards on 12 carries in Week 5.
When the Patriots have the ball
While New England’s defense has deservingly received a lot of praise throughout the first month-plus of the season, the Patriots offense has been somewhat trying to figure out their identity.
Throughout their Super Bowl run last season, Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels leaned on the running game, especially late in the season with Sony Michel and company. Up until last week, the backfield hadn’t produced to the level the team had hoped this season. Against the Redskins in Week 5, New England did seem to turn a corner as Michel ran for 91 yards on 5.7 yards per carry, including a 14-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to really put the game out of reach.
Because New England was able to run over the Redskins, it doesn’t exactly mean that all their problems are solved as Washington has one of the worst run defenses in the league. That said, part of the Patriots’ problem out of the backfield this season was their predictability.
When defenses see James White in the backfield it’s an obvious pass situation, and it’s an obvious run play with Michel is out there. That’s why we’ve been able to see more overall success from a healthy Rex Burkhead when he’s in the backfield thanks to his versatility running between the tackles and catching out the backfield. With Michel specifically, his lack of prowess as a receiver allows linebackers to cheat a bit off the snap as there are less situations to account for.
This is why Michel catching all three of his targets last Sunday for 32 yards and James White rushing for 26 yards on 4.3 yards per carry is significant. If they can show a consistent threat in those categories, it should give the overall unit more success and a bit of mystery at the line with whoever is in the backfield.
As for the receivers, the unit is a bit banged up with first-round pick N’Keal Harry on injured reserve and Phillip Dorsett (hamstring) out for this game, but Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon are still at the helm for Tom Brady. Each are coming off outings against the Redskins where they were able to average over 11 yards per reception.
What was interesting in this latest win was the utilization of tight ends Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse. They combined for just three catches but gained 61 yards and a touchdown. This isn’t Rob Gronkowski-like production, but the fact that LaCosse is finally healthy and that the team decided to release veteran Benjamin Watson suggests that this is a budding unit with those two and could be in line for more work against New York.
Pick: Patriots 36-6 over Giants