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Giants-Texans preview: Close, but no cigar so far

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 16: Saquon Barkley #26

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 16: Saquon Barkley #26 of the New York Giants carries the ball against DeMarcus Lawrence #90 of the Dallas Cowboys and Jaylon Smith #54 of the Dallas Cowboys in the fourth quarter at AT&T Stadium on September 16, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Photo Credit: Getty Images/Tom Pennington

Close.

That’s the word that has been bandied about for most of the past two weeks as the Giants have slipped to 0-2 and have struggled to score points. They’re close to winning, close to connecting, close to turning this around they say.

“Close, I think, is a key word,” offensive coordinator Mike Shula said on Thursday. “You don’t want to use that as an excuse. I think there is a fine line in everything you do between perception and reality. The perception is that it’s not there, it’s not good enough, and it hasn’t been. But the reality is we think we’re really close and we do a couple things here and there and we are going to stay on the field, we are going to put points on the board. I think we’re too talented.”

They’re also close to football oblivion. If they lose to the Texans in Houston on Sunday, they’ll fall to 0-3 and the young season already will be in peril. It’s a slippery slide the Giants have gone down in recent years, seeing 0-2 morph quickly into 0-5 or 0-6.

“I think it’s making a conscious effort and decision to put a stop to it at some point, for us to come together as an offense and as a team, and just to play better football,” Odell Beckham Jr. said of avoiding that fall off the ledge. “We’ve got to win . . . We game plan it, we got some good stuff in, and we’ve got to come up with a victory.”

Beckham has been a part of Giants teams that have collapsed early. He was around last year when the team started 0-5 before his season-ending injury. It happens fast, he knows.

“But just as fast as it can go the other way, too,” he said. “You can lose eight in a row, you can win eight in a row. You never know. We just want to make sure it doesn’t go that way. Get this first win, then try and get it going.”

KNOCKED WORST

When the Giants drafted Saquon Barkley they said he was “touched by the hand of God.” So far he’s been touched more by the hands of defenders than any deity. According to ESPN, Giants running backs have the fewest total rushing yards before first contact (32) and the fewest rushing yards before first contact per rush (.80) in the NFL. In other words, Barkley and his fellow running backs are getting hit on their carries before they even gain a yard. The Giants’ running backs are the only team in the league saddled with that lack of impact up front. The second-worst team is the Saints, who average 1.44 yards before first contact on their runs.

JUST DO IT

The Giants have started both games this season with their defense on the field. And on its heels.

Twice the opposing team has used an opening drive to set the tone for the rest of the game, with the Jaguars marching 59 yards for a field goal and the Cowboys going 75 for a touchdown. Those two drives account for 8.6 percent of the total possessions against the Giants and 30.3 percent of the offensive points they have allowed.

“I think we’re doing some overthinking,” defensive tackle Damon Harrison said of the slow starts. “Guys are just sitting back trying to get a feel for the game as opposed to attacking like the defense is built for.”

The Giants want to change that on Sunday against the Texans, no matter who gets the ball first.

“Coming out fast, that’s about it,” safety Landon Collins said. “It’s really just hitting the guy in the mouth that’s across the ball from us, honestly. Playing tough on defense. We have the guys, we know what we have to do. We show it throughout the game. We just have to do it once the first snap hits.”

STATS? WHAT STATS?

When it comes to the most important stat, Barkley said he is disappointed in what he has been able to produce so far in his NFL career.

“Obviously I expected to be 2-0,” the rookie running back said this week after the Giants fell to 0-2. “That’s the mindset you have. Every game you want to come out and win.”

As for his other stats, Barkley shrugged them off, even though they are starting to come into focus as impressive. He is on track for more than 1,000 rushing yards and almost 1,900 all-purpose yards, and those projections should only go higher as he starts to accumulate the longer gains that many expect he will at some point.

“I can’t worry about that,” Barkley said of his numbers. “Stick with the good and get rid of the bad. Those two losses, learn from them. We did a lot of good. Obviously, there was a lot of bad, but learn from the bad, stick with the good, and continue to get better. Attack this week in a new mindset.”

THE X-FACTOR

In the first two games the Giants faced run-first offenses. Sunday against the Texans will be the secondary’s first big test against a premier wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins. More specifically, it likely will be Janoris Jenkins’ first big test. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher used Patrick Peterson to shadow dangerous receivers when he was with the Cardinals and figures to do the same with Jenkins.

“Janoris is a special player,” Bettcher said. “He’s one of the best corners in this league. There is no question about that… If that matchup happens and they happen to be on each other in this game, he’s going to go compete and fight and scrap and be the player that he is.”

Jenkins  never has faced Hopkins, but has studied him for this matchup.

“Nice ball reader, judgment of the ball, got great hands,” Jenkins said. “He’s OK with speed, route running ability is pretty nice. Just don’t let him get his hands on the ball, basically. Don’t let him touch it.”

“You just have to be aware of where '10' is,” Bettcher said, “and that’s whether Janoris is on him or anybody else is on him.”

34

 Consecutive regular-season games in which the Giants have failed to score 30 or more points. It is the longest such streak for the Giants since they went 57 straight without reaching 30 points from 1975-79.

2-21

 Giants’ record since 1990 in games in which they record neither a sack nor a takeaway. That was the case in last week’s loss to the Cowboys.

3-0

 Eli Manning’s career record against the Texans. They are one of three teams in the NFL he has never lost to along with the Bills and Dolphins (3-0 against both).

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