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Opponent Breakdown: Despite Injuries, Giants have Talented Skill Players

Posted Nov 3, 2017

The Giants' receiving corps doesn't have Odell Beckham Jr. or Brandon Marshall after season-ending injuries, but the team has QB Eli Manning and a talented young group of skill players.

While the Rams head into Week 9 remarkably healthy, the Giants are not nearly as lucky.

A wide receiving corps that on paper looked like it could be one of the most formidable in the league has been decimated by injury. Odell Beckham Jr. — arguably the NFL’s best wideout — suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 5, and is on injured reserve. Free agent signee Brandon Marshall also suffered a season-ending injury that same week. And while it looks like he may return for Sunday, second-year wideout Sterling Shepard has missed New York’s last two games due to an ankle injury.

There’s been a lot of factors for the Giants’ 1-6 start to the season. And while no team uses player unavailability as an excuse, losing so many players has undoubtedly contributed to New York’s record.

“I think we have a team that — we look a little bit differently out there than we thought we would at this point, but that’s part of this league. That can change in a hurry on you,” Giants head coach Ben McAdoo said. “But, we have a team of fighters. We have guys that play hard, they set their jaw and they’re willing to fight and that gives us a chance each and every week.”

“That’s part of the game — injuries are part of the game,” middle linebacker Alec Ogletree said. “Everybody is not going to be in there all the time. You hate to see guys like that go down, but they are still a talented team.”

To that end, the Giants still do have quarterback Eli Manning, who has won a pair of Super Bowls and started 206 consecutive games for the club since 2004. He’s had a decent start to 2017, completing 64.2 percent of his passes — which would be a career high — for 1,600 yards with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions.

“Eli got off to a good start. I think he’s protecting the ball better throwing it than he has in the past,” McAdoo said. “The fumbles — that’s something that we have to address and take care of. We’ve got to take care of the ball better in the pocket that way, but he’s managing the offense. It’s a little bit different than we’ve played in the past, the way we’re playing now, but that’s part of the game. He’s a guy that does a tremendous job preparing each and every week. He’s very consistent, very steady and the other players feed off of him that way.”

“He’s a two-time champion and you have a lot of respect for what he has done in this league and the type of player that he is,” Ogletree said. “For us, it’s just a matter of us doing our jobs the best that we can and trying to limit him from getting started. Because if he gets hot, he’s gone. I think if do what we need to do, we’ll be fine.”

Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips schemed against Manning for a number of years in the NFC East when he was head coach of the Cowboys, and said he’s noticed growth out of the longtime Giants signal-caller.

“He’s one of those quarterbacks that, he knows what coverage you’re in even if you disguise things. He knows when you’re blitzing — those kind of guys are hard to blitz,” Phillips said. “They know where to go to and quickly to do it. He’s a complete quarterback, he wouldn’t have all of the rings and the championships he’s had without being a great player.”

And even without Beckham and Marshall, the Giants have some significant skill players. Shepard is one of them, as it looks like he’ll be returning from his injury this week. And then there’s rookie tight end Evan Engram.

Through seven games, Engram has caught 30 passes for 342 yards with three touchdowns. He’s scored in each of the Giants’ last two games.

“We were trying to get him touches early in the season, just to bring him along, just keep things simple for him and just teach him pro football and let him develop as the season went on,” McAdoo said, adding that then the injuries happened and plans changed. “So, we had to give him more opportunities in a feature role and try to get the ball in his hands with him being really one of the more experienced guy we have at the perimeter spots — being a rookie is hard as that is to say.”

“I have a lot of respect for Sterling Shepard and what he’s done when he’s been available this year,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said. “You look at the long touchdown that he’s creates against Philly to allow them to take the lead when they’re coming back from behind and they played them extremely well. Philly’s playing as well as anybody in this league, so you see what a very good competitive team this is that we’re going against. I think Evan Engram has done a nice job as a rookie tight end.”

L.A. cornerback Trumaine Johnson had some complimentary words for Engram as well. The tight end has lined up on the outside for the Giants, which leaves the possibility that Johnson could line up against the 6-foot-3 tight end at some point.

“Man, he is playing like he’s a vet — he really is,” Johnson said. “A first rounder and just an incredible player, athletic [with] speed — so it’s going to be a tough matchup for us.”

Even without Beckham and Marshall, the Rams cannot look past the Giants with the weapons they have. And Los Angeles seems to be embracing that attitude for Sunday’s contest.

“They are athletic all over the field. They are battling right now, they really are with the injuries that they have been having,” Johnson said. “But a lot of guys have stepped up over there so it’s going to be fun.”

“It’s one game at a time and it’s any given Sunday,” Ogletree said. “Though their record is not what they want it to be, they’re still a really good football team. We know that, we respect that. They have a lot of talent on their team and they can beat any team in this league on any given Sunday. We’re definitely looking forward to this week and if we have a great week of practice, go into the week with the right mindset, I like our chances for sure.”