The New York Giants are only six games into the 2019 regular season, and there is still a lot of football left to be played. But with a mark of 2-4, this Giants team, who this week hosts the Arizona Cardinals (2-3-1), are at a crossroads.
With a win, the Giants stand to gain ground in the NFC East, where they could end up in second place by the end of Sunday's action depending on the outcome of Sunday night's Cowboys-Eagles game.
With a Giants win and an Eagles loss, the Giants would move into second place in the division.
However, if the Cowboys lose, they would still have a half-game advantage over the Giants as, despite the fact they'd have the same won-loss record, Dallas beat the Giants back in Week 1, giving them the head-to-head advantage.
If the Giants lose to the Cardinals, then all that math goes out the window as they'll fall to 2-5, one win better than they were at the same point in the last two seasons.
Giants head coach Pat Shurmur, however, doesn't want his players worrying about the math.
"I don't think that's something that if you're involved in this profession, you don't do that," he said of scoreboard watching.
"I encourage our players to stay in the moment, be where your feet are, take care of Friday things, and when we play on Sunday, do everything we can to put an effort on the field to beat Arizona. Good, bad or indifferent, that's how you have to play this thing. Then other people do the math."
Here is a look at some key storylines ahead of the 1:00 p.m. kickoff at MetLife Stadium.
The Giants will get an up-close look at Cardinals rookie quarterback Kyler Murray, the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft.
Murray, who is 153 out of 238 (64.3%) for 1,664 yards and seven touchdowns (to 4 interceptions) currently has the best (out of three) pass completion percentage out of the young quarterbacks in his draft class who have attempted at least 150 passes.
Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury, also in his first NFL season, has brought with him his " Spread Coast " offense from Texas Tech, a system that has been an ideal fit for Murray's skillset to a T.
As part of that offense, the Cardinals have made heavy use of 10-personnel (one running back and no tight ends), which the Cards have used approximately 32% of the time this year with a 50% success rate.
Where Murray has been especially dangerous is with his legs. He is currently second on the Cardinals in rushing with 39 carries for 238 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
After a three-week injury-related (high ankle sprain) absence, Giants running back Saquon Barkley is set to return to the line-up.
Barkley, who despite his inactivity still leads the Giants in rushing (37 runs for 237 yards), said he's ready and willing to take on as big of a role Sunday as the coaches need him to.
"I know that even if I want to be out there as much as I can, it's ultimately really not up to me," he said Thursday.
"It's going to be up to the team doctors and the trainers and coaches. I know that I feel confident enough that whatever they need my role, my responsibility, to be, I'm going to be able to do it for the team."
The Giants have certainly missed Barkley, who also has 11 receptions for 74 yards in the running game.
Before his injury, the Giants running game averaged 117.3 rushing yards per game. Without him, that average dropped to 90 yards per game.
"I guess statistically we went down, but I give a lot of credit to (Jon) Hilliman, EP (Eli Penny), Wayne (Gallman Jr.), and all those guys. I think they did a tremendous job of doing what they needed to do and making the plays when they needed to be," Barkley said.
"I think the best way would be to go out there and be me. I don't think there's anything- I'm not going to bash our running backs, I don't think it was like, 'Oh, they played awful'-nothing like that. Yes, I guess statistically, it went down, but that happens. Not every week is going to be a 200-yard performance."
The Giants are also getting back tight end Evan Engram, their leader in receptions and receiving yards(33 receptions for 373 yards, two touchdowns)back after a one-game absence due to a knee sprain.
Engram's return couldn't have been any better timed. The Cardinals pass defense has allowed a league-high 599 yards to opposing tight ends this season, including 100-yard games to four different tight ends.
"Within our scheme, we'll have some chances to make some plays," tight ends coach Lunda Wells said about the plan to deploy Engram and the other Giants tight ends against the Cardinals defense.
"They'll do a nice job of creating some good pass rushes, so whatever we do, we have to do it quickly and be decisive with how we execute our routes and stuff. They're a good defensive team; we have to do a nice job of executing on our part."
Engram, whose two career 100-yard receiving games came earlier this season, has Kingsbury nervous.
"We have to find an answer, and we have to be better in that area," he admitted during a conference call with the Giants beat writers Wednesday.
"We know we are playing a great one in Engram, one of the most dynamic tight ends in the game, and we better come up with some answers."
There are plenty of former Cardinals defenders who got the Giants defensive roster-safety Antoine Bethea and defensive lineman Olsen Pierre are just two examples. But the one who is going to draw the most attention this week is edge rusher Markus Golden.
After having a breakout season in 2016 with 12.5 sacks, Golden, who had that great season under James Bettcher, suffered a knee injury the following year and has been on a long road back to becoming the player he as starting to become when he posted that double-digit sack season.
So far as a Giant, Golden, who is on a one-year "show me" contract, has shown he's well on his way to being that player he was before the injury. The Giants team leader in sacks with 5.0, he has posted a half-sack in his last five games.
If he records at least a half-sack against the Cardinals, he'll become just the fourth Giants defender in franchise history to accomplish that feat in the same season, joining Carl Banks, Michael Strahan, and Justin Tuck.
The Cardinals have allowed 21 sacks in six games this season; meanwhile, the Giants rank fifth in the NFL with 16 sacks since Week 2 of the regular season and are second in the NFC behind the Panthers for the most sacks since Week 2.
In the last several years, the Giants offensive line has lacked good fortune of having its starting five members stay healthy for consecutive games in a row.
The last time the Giants offensive line started the same five guys for the first six games of the season was in 2009, when, from left to right, they fielded David Diehl, Rich Seubert, Shaun O'Hara, Chris Snee, and Kareem McKenzie.
Continuity for an offensive line cannot be emphasized enough as by having the same guys playing next to each other, that helps with communication and with playing faster.
Thus far, the results have been promising. According to Pro Football Focus, the Giants offensive line has an 85.1% pass-blocking efficiency, the sixth-best percentage out of 32 offensive lines.
Compared to 2018, that's a big jump forward, when after six games, their pass-blocking efficiency was 81.7%, 29th in the NFL.