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NY Giants have made progress under new regime, but have a long way to go

By Ralph Vacchiano
FOX Sports NFC East Writer

If the Giants beat the Chicago Bears at home on Sunday – and they probably should – they will be firmly established as one of the biggest surprises of this NFL season. They’re already a great story.

Right now, though, it qualifies more as a myth.

That’s OK, just like it’s OK for the Giants and their fans to be a little excited and optimistic after what’s happened to their franchise over the past six years. But nobody should be fooled by a couple of early wins. GM Joe Schoen and coach Brian Daboll certainly aren’t. They made it clear from the day they were hired that they’re playing the long game.

And they’ve always known it would take more than a couple of early victories to flush out the stench from the Dave Gettleman Era.

That is really the enduring message from their 2-1 start. They are a deeply flawed team with far too many holes; one that has gotten by so far on a combination of smoke, mirrors and a bunch of lucky breaks. They are missing nearly all the ingredients of a good team – from the elite quarterback to the strong offensive line to the dangerous pass rush. And with a remarkably weak receiving corps, they’re at a disadvantage in a pass-happy league.

Schoen and Daboll knew they couldn’t fix those issues in their first nine months on the job because their primary responsibility was getting out from under a crippling salary cap mess. They knew that no matter how many wins they squeezed out this season, next offseason would be their first real chance to start to rebuild.

And the first three games have only reinforced that there is still a whole lot of rebuilding to do. Here’s a look at some of the key areas of concern that have been re-exposed, even in their early wins: 

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The quarterback: Daboll continues to sound lukewarm on QB Daniel Jones, which makes sense because that aptly describes how Jones’ performances have made most people feel so far. He’s not making a lot of mistakes (only two interceptions) but he hasn’t topped 200 passing yards in any of his first three games. Of course, he probably would have if his receivers could catch. And it hasn’t helped that he’s constantly running for his life behind yet another bad offensive line.

That element of the quarterback’s game has impressed Daboll. Jones is clearly a gamer. He’s tough. He’s become an expert at running out of trouble (25 carries, 125 yards). But the Giants are trying to decide if he’s worth a $31.5 million franchise tag next season. Surely they need more from him.

 “I thought he made good strides,” Daboll said. “Obviously not scoring enough points, and we left some plays out there on the field. But the job that he did in terms of running the offense, handling things when things weren’t always perfect … I thought that he’s making improvement.”

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that Schoen has spent the season’s first few weeks on the college scouting trail, where he’s already gotten an up-close look at some of the best quarterbacks coming out in the 2023 NFL draft – just in case.

The offensive line: There is no doubt they are better up front than they’ve been in close to a decade, but that bar was pretty low. The beating Jones took against the Cowboys (five sacks and a dozen hits) showed this is still one of the worst groups in the league. They do have building blocks, though. Andrew Thomas has been mostly terrific at left tackle. And though rookie Evan Neal had a very rough night against Dallas, he’s already shown glimpses of why the Giants took him with the seventh overall pick.

But they’ll need to get stronger up the middle, where center Jon Feliciano and guard Mark Glowinski are only short-term veteran fill-ins. And that kind of help won’t come until the next round of free agency and the draft. Then they’re going to need time to develop those players and get this line to a place where their offense really had a chance to succeed.

The receivers: The Giants actually thought this might be a strength heading into the season, but will any of these current receivers still be part of the team when it is finally good again? That seems doubtful. Their best receivers right now are Richie James and David Sills, who would likely be fourth or fifth options on most other teams.. And now they’ve lost Sterling Shepard for the season due to a torn ACL.

What’s left? Not much. Kenny Golladay is a $72 million bust and the Giants will dump him the first chance they get. Kadarius Toney is clearly not a favorite of this coaching staff, plus he’s always hurt. They are high on rookie Wan’Dale Robinson, but he’s missed the first three games with a knee injury and being 5-foot-8 comes with limitations.

They will probably have to find two receivers in the offseason to help Jones, or whomever their new quarterback is.

The pass rush: There is hope here, even though there’s been no production. The Giants like their future 1-2 punch of rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux and second-year pro Azeez Ojulari, both of whom made their season debuts against the Cowboys on Monday night. They hope that they’ll get a boost when Leonard Williams returns from his knee injury eventually, and Wink Martindale’s aggressive, blitz-happy scheme will help them, too.

It’s all theoretical until they actually do it, though. And while together they could all form a decent pass rush, it’s not at all clear that the Giants have a star rusher who will keep opposing offensive coordinators up at night. There’s no one like, for example, DeMarcus Lawrence or Micah Parsons, who were both all over Jones for the Cowboys on Monday night.

Maybe Thibodeaux can be that guy. If not, add this to the offseason list, too.

Running back: No, Saquon Barkley isn’t a problem. In fact, he’s been arguably the best thing about this Giants team. He looks healthy and determined and he’s second in the NFL with 317 yards, thanks largely to his 164-yard output in Tennessee on Opening Day.

The question about him is really more financial, as he plays out the final year of his contract. Will he be worth the franchise tag of $12.7 million to a team with so many other needs (assuming they don’t use the tag on Jones)? Would they be willing to give him a long-term contract? It’s hard to imagine the Giants having any success this season or next without Barkley. But he might be a luxury for a team that’s still a few years away and has so many other expensive holes to fill.

Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys. He spent 22 years covering the Giants, Jets and NFL at large for SNY and the New York Daily News. He can be found on Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.

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