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Five things Giants need to fix

New York Giants' Paul Perkins, left, tries to

New York Giants' Paul Perkins, left, tries to dodge Philadelphia Eagles' Jalen Mills on Dec. 22, 2016, in Philadelphia. Credit: AP / Michael Perez

The Giants still don’t know whom they’ll face in the NFC wild-card round next weekend. They’ll find out Sunday night when the Week 17 results are in. That will give the media the rest of the upcoming week to handle matchups, scouting reports and recent histories between the two teams. For now, though, all we know is that the Giants are in. So we’ll look at them.

Here are five things the Giants need to fix — and fix quickly — to advance deep in the postseason:

BECOME ROAD WARRIORS. The Giants made the playoffs at home, winning seven of eight games at MetLife Stadium. To succeed in the playoffs, they’ll have to do it on the road. The Giants’ last significant win there was Sept. 11, when they beat the Cowboys in the opener in Dallas, and even that has an asterisk, because it was the first career start for Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. Since then, the Giants have won two other road games: one in Cleveland and one in London against the Rams, who were the “home” team but more than 5,000 miles away from home. In December, the Giants faced two decent teams on the road — Pittsburgh and Philadelphia — and lost both times. They also lost in Minnesota and in Green Bay in back-to-back weeks in October. It’s why Sunday’s game in Washington is so important. It’s the last chance to prove to everyone, themselves included, that they can beat a playoff-caliber team on the road. “It would be big,” defensive tackle Jay Bromley said. “This postseason we’re going on the road just like the old Giants were, so it would be good to get on a roll.” The 2007 Giants, whom Bromley referenced, were so good at winning away from home that they had the words “Road Warriors” written on their championship rings. There is a chance, of course, that the Giants will host the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 22 if they and whoever winds up as the number 6 seed in the conference both advance that far. The more likely scenario is that the Giants will have to win a Super Bowl out of a suitcase.

ELIMINATE TURNOVERS. Asked what improvements Eli Manning can make as the Giants head into the playoffs, coach Ben McAdoo said the biggest is that he protect the football. “The Duke’s like a bar of gold this time of year,” McAdoo said. “We need to take care of the ball, that’s the most important thing.” The Duke, for those not in the know, is what McAdoo calls the football (it is the official model used by the NFL and is named after former Giants owner Wellington Mara). The Duke is so important to McAdoo that it is pictured throughout the Giants’ media guide, and it should be. Consider that in Manning’s eight career playoff wins, he has thrown two interceptions. In his three career playoff losses, he has thrown six. Manning has thrown 16 interceptions this season, his most since McAdoo came to the Giants as offensive coordinator. Six of those have come in the last four games, five of them in the last two losses. It’s a fairly simple equation: When Manning protects the ball, the Giants traditionally win in January and February. McAdoo knows it. He’s seen it happen. “Unfortunately,” he said, “I saw him twice.” Those were two playoff losses to the Giants when he was an assistant with the Packers. McAdoo understands the formula.

GET THE RUNNING GAME GOING. The Giants are averaging 83.4 rushing yards per game (ranked 29th) and have a league-worst five rushing touchdowns. Their longest run of the year — a 25-yarder by Shane Vereen in Week 3 — is the shortest longest in the NFL. There have been some signs of improvement in recent weeks, though. They have run for 114 yards in each of their past two games, two of their most productive games of the season (their high is 122 against the Bengals), and rookie Paul Perkins has been increasing his workload along with his confidence and productivity. “He certainly showed an ability . . . to make some guys miss, whether it’s being able to have a move or be evasive, elude the tackle or break some arm tackles,” offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said of Perkins. “So that’s good. He continues to show improvement in his pass protection, both awareness and knowledge of who to block and technique.” Last week might have been a tipping point in his development, as Perkins had 15 carries to starter Rashad Jennings’ nine. In 2007, a rookie running back named Ahmad Bradshaw emerged late in the year and became the team’s leading rusher in the playoffs. Perkins has the potential to do that.

ELIMINATE THE BIG PLAYS. The one area in which the Giants’ defense has been deficient this season has been allowing big plays. They have allowed 53 passes of at least 20 yards this season, only five fewer than the 2015 team, which finished last in the league in defense and was one of the worst teams on pass defense in NFL history. It’s also more than all but five other teams this season. Of the 24 offensive touchdowns allowed by the Giants this season, seven have come on passes of at least 20 yards and four of those have come in the past four games. Which brings us to Washington, which has the second-most passing plays of at least 20 yards in the NFL (64, two behind Atlanta). DeSean Jackson had the longest TD reception against the Giants this season, a 44-yarder. “They’re explosive,” Giants safety Landon Collins said. “[Jackson] kind of lulls guys to sleep. He doesn’t use his actual speed when he’s running his routes, but when he knows he’s about to go deep, he hits you and catches you while you’re asleep. He gets behind you.” The Giants’ defense also needs to get its pass rush back on track. In the four games before Jason Pierre-Paul’s injury in Pittsburgh, the Giants rattled off 16 total sacks. In the four games since then, including Pittsburgh, they have six. Without JPP on the field, Olivier Vernon has a half-sack in the last three games.

CRANK UP THE RED-ZONE OFFENSE. Getting in scoring range hasn’t been a problem for the Giants of late. Getting in the end zone has been the hard part. “We need to finish better,” McAdoo said. “We’re productive up and down the field. A lot of third downs and third-down productivity . . . We just have to finish plays better, finish drives better and finish the game better.” In the last four games, the Giants have had 12 red-zone opportunities and have scored only five touchdowns. They got to the 3- and 9-yard lines against the Steelers and didn’t come away with points on either drive. They were 1-for-5 in scoring range against the Eagles and settled for three field goals. “We’re getting there,” Victor Cruz said. “We’re in the red zone; we’re getting there like we want to get points on the board. We’re just not coming away with them, whether it’s turnovers or coming away with field goals when we need touchdowns.” In the playoffs, the Giants will need touchdowns. “You’re going to be going against good teams,” Manning said. “You’ve got to play smart and you’ve just got to make the plays that are there. We have that capability of scoring points and moving the ball and converting on third downs and doing all the right things offensively. We’re just going to have to make the plays on game day.”

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