Kadarius Toney has become one of the Giants’ more exciting offensive players in the first half of his rookie season. A good part of the reason for that is his involvement in many of the tricks and gadgets the Giants have in their playbook.
Need a wide receiver to throw a pass? Toney can do that. Want to run a Wildcat formation? Toney is your guy.
The problem is those plays don’t always work effectively. In fact, for the most part this season, they have been duds that fizzled before the payoff.
"We can always use more sell," Toney said of why those gimmicks fail to gimmick. "That’s what you call it in the play when you’re trying to fool the defense. You can always use more sell."
As the Giants return to action from their bye week, they undoubtedly have undergone a significant self-scout in just about every area of their play. If it was an honest appraisal, it likely found that the team is outmanned and overmatched in many aspects, particularly on the offensive line and in some areas of their defense.
That certainly will be the case on Monday night against the Buccaneers, especially if they are without a fully healthy offensive tackle Andrew Thomas (expected to be activated from injured reserve in time to play) and safety Logan Ryan (on COVID-19/reserve).
They have eight games remaining to salvage a season that started with a 3-6 record. The key to doing that with the personnel they have on hand might be as simple as it is slippery.
To become a competitive team that has an opportunity to contend for a postseason berth — a win on Monday certainly would keep them in the hunt for an NFC wild-card berth — they need to rely on more sleight-of-hand surreptitiousness than hand-to-hand fighting, more illusion and subterfuge than straightforward football.
Even as they get running back Saquon Barkley back and wide receivers such as Toney and Kenny Golladay healthier, their best asset may be deception.
It’s something that turned the Giants’ defense around last season. Applying it to the rest of the squad could be just the key to pushing them over the top against opponents that, on paper, would seem to be much better than they are.
Before he was sidelined with COVID, Ryan said he spoke with Raiders quarterbacks Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota after the Giants’ win over Las Vegas in Week 9.
"They had trouble with our disguises," Ryan said. "I think that’s getting better and that just takes time to work on that. We saw that kind of happen last year as the season progressed. It just takes reps with the unit to work on disguise to make it better and make it hard on these really good quarterbacks. We’ve had a stretch of a bunch of them lately."
They have one more coming in Tom Brady with the Bucs on Monday.
Last year the Giants were able to confuse Brady with their late shifts and abrupt changes (in the first half, at least), making him see signs of one type of coverage before they jumped into something else. The result kept the Giants in a game they lost, 25-23.
They can’t go to those exact tactics again against Brady. He’s never been a fool-me-twice quarterback, certainly not in consecutive seasons. Not even in the same game. Being without Ryan, the David Blaine of their defense, certainly hinders them. It also makes it more important to try to master the art of illusion.
"There’s going to have to be a number of adjustments in the game because this guy has seen it all," Joe Judge said. "You’re not going to go ahead and throw one thing at this guy and think that’s going to work for 60 minutes. As a coach, you’ve got to look and think ahead and play ahead."
To get to him on Monday — and maybe this time beat him and the Bucs — the Giants know they have to come up with new tricks and feints to put on display on defense.
The same goes for their offense, too. Utilizing Toney and Barkley and even Daniel Jones’ athleticism can lead to creative solutions to their offensive line issues. Even their special teams might need to start taking more calculated risks, gambling with fakes or unexpected onside kicks.
The Giants can’t go toe-to-toe against many teams, certainly not the defending Super Bowl champs with their entire roster returning. But they might have enough guile and guise to outsmart some of them. Maybe even enough to make some noise down the stretch.