TAMPA BAY, Fla. -- Badly in need of a win, the New York Giants are expected to have defensive end Olivier Vernon available Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to multiple sources. He is listed as questionable with an ankle injury.
Vernon is not expected to be at 100 percent, but this is a player who didn’t miss a game last year when he broke his wrist. He has never missed a game in his five-plus professional seasons. It’s going to take more than an injured ankle to keep him off the field.
The disruptive end’s presence should help against a Bucs passing offense that likes to get the ball downfield with the speedy DeSean Jackson and physical Mike Evans at wide receiver. Quarterback Jameis Winston is first in the NFL with 11.7 air yards per attempt. Those deeper routes take time to develop. Vernon and fellow defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul will need to pressure Winston in order to slow the Bucs’ top 10 passing offense.
Here’s the full Week 4 Giants cheatsheet:
Rookie in running back rotation?
That means rookie Wayne Gallman should be active for his first career game and is likely to get in the mix. How much? That could depend on how the game unfolds and whether Vereen and Darkwa hold up physically.
Gallman was the Giants’ fourth-round pick earlier this year. He has been inactive for the first three games after a summer where he looked like … a rookie (see: fumbles and dropped passes).
Where Gallman could help is as a natural runner. He runs hard and has an ability to make defenders miss. Giants running backs rank 31st in the NFL this year with just 58 yards after contact through three weeks. They’re last in the league in rushing yards per game (49.0).
A new free safety approach
The plan for the Giants appears to be that Darian Thompson and Andrew Adams will split playing time at free safety. Thompson had been on the field for just about every defensive snap the first three weeks, but struggled in Philadelphia with several missed tackles.
Adams, who started 13 games as an undrafted rookie last season and held his own, will work into the rotation. But it doesn’t mean the Giants are ready to bury Thompson. He showed substantial promise last year as a rookie before his season was ruined in Week 2 by a foot injury. Thompson also flashed throughout the summer.
As secondary/safeties coach David Merritt explained, this is essentially Thompson’s rookie season. He has played in five career games. The Giants need to be patient with the 2016 third-round pick.
“Rookie. That’s what I see,” Merritt said. “I see a guy who played one, maybe two games last year. And all of a sudden he’s coming back this year, playing his first full season."
Thompson will continue to be part of the mix Sunday in Tampa and beyond. The Giants still have high hopes for the young safety.
“We’re sticking with Darian Thompson, absolutely, because at the same time, because a guy makes a mistake -- [quarterback] Eli [Manning] throws a bad [pass] one time, coach is not going to pull him out,” Merritt said. “So, it’s the same thing with this guy. You have to let him go through growing pains and hopefully he’ll learn from it.”
The young CB curve
Hargreaves is the 89th-ranked cornerback with a grade of 43.0 this season, according to Pro Football Focus. He’s had his struggles early in the season. So has Apple. He is 95th with a grade of 40.0.
It goes to show the difficulty of playing the position early in a career. Even though Apple’s coverage has been solid at times, the results have not. He had Detroit’s Marvin Jones jump over his head for a touchdown in Week 2 and was flagged for two pass interference penalties for 77 yards last week against the Eagles. The second was, um, debatable, according to everyone on the Giants. He also made a poor play on the ball in the final seconds.
There seems to be optimism that it will all eventually click for Apple considering his problems aren't physical. He’s been running with receivers. They seem to think some more experience and minor adjustments will change the outcomes.
“Just having better awareness of the situation and seeing the way the calls were going, you don’t want to give [the refs] anything that they can easily call,” Apple said. “So, just getting your head around, not making too much contact with the receiver because if you make too much, obviously that’s a flag.”
Apple will likely be facing Jackson most of Sunday afternoon. Surely he will be tested with a few deep balls.
The anthem plan
After the entire Giants team locked arms during the anthem and three players knelt in Philadelphia, the team planned to address how they will handle this week during a meeting Saturday night. The Giants say they have people working behind the scenes with players. Owner John Mara met this week with several key veterans, and while he requested they stand for the anthem, according to defensive captain Jonathan Casillas and safety Landon Collins, he also would understand and support anyone who felt the need to do otherwise.
In the meeting rooms, coach Ben McAdoo insists the Giants have kept it exclusively about football this week.
The Giants are getting the ball out so quickly they’re not able to throw the ball downfield as much. Odell Beckham Jr.’s average depth of pass this year is 5.2 yards. That’s half of what it was last season when it was 10.4, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
How badly do the Giants need a win? They have a 1 percent chance of making the postseason if they lose on Sunday.