Giants quarterback Daniel Jones is tackled by 49ers defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw,...

Giants quarterback Daniel Jones is tackled by 49ers defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, top, and cornerback Deommodore Lenoir during the second half of an NFL game in Santa Clara, Calif. on Sept. 21. Credit: AP/Godofredo A. Vásquez

If it seems hard to tell who these Giants are by watching them trudge through the first three weeks of the season, know you are not alone.

They don’t quite know either.

“That’s a good question,” Leonard Williams said when asked by Newsday on Thursday if the team has found its identity.

“Not yet,” linebacker Bobby Okereke said in response to the same question.

It’s something they must come up with an answer to. Fast.

Monday night would be a good time to unveil it.

We are, after all, getting to the point of the season when the league starts to separate itself into contenders and also-rans, where teams begin to settle into the handy categories we have for them: Explosive. Scrappy. Tough.

The Giants? What the heck are they?

We know what they want to be. It’s painted all over the walls of their facility. “Smart, tough and dependable,” that’s the mantra they have had for themselves since Brian Daboll and Joe Schoen arrived last offseason to redesign the internal character and culture of the organization. In three games they haven’t lived up to any of those three adjectives.

“I’d say we have a lot of improvement to do,” Daboll said when asked the “identity” question last week after the loss to the 49ers.

We know what their record is (1-2) and what their lopsided point differential is (minus-55, the second-worst in the league ahead of only the Bears; even the Broncos team that gave up 70 last week is ahead of them). Perhaps that’s who they are. Then again that might just be a function of having played two of the top teams in the league.

There is one very clear aspect to this hazy existential question, however, and it is this:

The Giants are going to be who their best players decide they will be.

It’s time for the jersey sale guys, the ones who have their names on the backs of the fans, to stand up and take control of this season before it becomes irretrievably lost. The core that the Giants assembled — Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley, Darren Waller, Andrew Thomas on offense, Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Bobby Okereke, Xavier McKinney on defense — needs to begin playing to the potential that they have yet to reach and forcibly carve out this team’s direction and definition.

That they seem to get.

“Your big-time players have to make big-time plays,” Okereke said. “That boosts morale. It gets the energy up. It’s paramount that your prime-time players make plays.”

“It’s definitely on the leaders, for sure,” Williams said. “The coaches are obviously leaders, but I think at the end of the day this a players' game and we are the ones out there on the field, we are the ones setting the tempo in practice and all type of things like that. I think it’s on us to shape the identity of the team and shape the way we go about things around here.”

All of which brings us to Monday night’s game against the Seahawks. It’s still unclear whether Barkley will play as he recovers from an ankle sprain, but it seems as if the rest of those key members of the roster who have been dealing with injuries — Thomas, Azeez Ojulari — should be available.

This contest should give us a much clearer picture of the 2024 Giants than any of their previous matchups. It’s a game against a team that is on their level, a team that is not the dominant force in its division but was a playoff squad a year ago and should be a contender for another berth this season. They have no inherently game-wrecking superstars on either side of the line of scrimmage.

They are, essentially, the Pacific Northwest version of the Giants.

When the actual Giants walk off the field on Monday night we should all know a lot more about what these coming three months will have in store for the team. Ideally, for them at least, it will be a positive outlook.

“We're still working to grow,” Jones said. “We're still confident and excited for what we can be.”

It’s just hard to say what that is at this point.

“That first game we play true complementary offense, defense and special teams, we’ll be able to show the world, and show the league, and really show ourselves, the type of team we can be,” Okereke said.

It’s too early in the schedule to look at this contest as season-defining. True, this is a game the Giants may look back on at some point as a determining factor in their postseason aspirations, a head-to-head result in any NFC wild-card race tiebreakers. But there is just too much time beyond Monday to declare this a must anything.

As for a team-defining game, though, this one seems to be right on schedule.


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