EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Giants still have a confidence about them, even though they know they're missing their best player. They think they can survive life without Saquon Barkley, even if it turns out to be for the next two months.
But make no mistake about it: Life without Barkley is not going to be easy. And that's true even if quarterback Daniel Jones continues to look as super as he did in his NFL debut. Defenses will find the Giants easier to defend. Running the ball will become a challenge. And there's just no way they can take a player like Barkley out of their lineup and be as good as they were.
So how will the Giants survive with Wayne Gallman? Here's a five-step blueprint for how to endure Barkley's absence and, hopefully, come out on the other side with a little life left in their season:
1. Do not even pretend that Wayne Gallman is Saquon Barkley
The 24-year-old in Gallman is a nice pro, a decent backup, and maybe could even be a serviceable running back, especially in the short term. But he is a fill-in for the spectacular Barkley, not a replacement. He simply isn't the kind of two-way threat that Barkley is, nor is he anywhere near as explosive. Gallman has 169 career carries. None have gone longer than 24 yards.
So the offense has to change. The previous plan was to run it through the running back, but Gallman isn't equipped for that. If the rushing attack wasn't working with Barkley, the Giants theoretically could keep pounding in the hopes that he'd eventually break off a long run. But they can't act the same with Gallman. If it's not working with him, they need to move on to something else.
What Gallman must be is more of an alternative option. He's probably a fourth or fifth read on passing plays. In tough spots, running him might have to be a secondary option, too.
2. Go pass-heavy
This might actually be good for Pat Shurmur, but this sure seems to play to the instincts he's showed through his first 19 games with the Giants. He has always been very quick to abandon the run - even with Barkley at his disposal. Now he should feel free to do that as early as he wants.
Not entirely, of course, but Gallman has never carried the ball more than 15 times in an NFL game, and this week shouldn't be any different. A range of 10-15 feels about right.
Now, that does mean the Redskins will be able to turn up the heat on a rookie quarterback making his second NFL start. But there are ways to fix that. Jones proved to be so good at rolling out of the pocket, that should be a big help in neutralizing any extra pass rush. Also, Gallman is a good pass blocker. He also has some receiving skills too, which should help.
But if the Giants are going to win, it's not going to be with a 50-50 run-pass split the rest of the way. They'll need to pass a lot more than that.
3. Feature Evan Engram even more
There is a feeling around the Giants (and echoed by many NFL scouts) that Evan Engram is poised for a big, breakout season, where he could prove to be one of the best receiving tight ends in the game. He's now had two games over 100 yards this season and was huge (6-113-1) for Jones on Sunday in Tampa.
Now, most of his yards in that game came on a 75-yard touchdown, which means the rest of his production was five catches for 38 yards. He can do better. They don't need to just wait for the big play. The ideal plan would be to get him farther down field, especially if Jones is going to extend plays with his mobility. Engram is a big mismatch for almost everyone. Take advantage of that. A lot.
He could be a big-play machine.
4. Play defense
You know what was the biggest help to Jones in the second half on Sunday when he was without Barkley? The defense, which started to finally look like … a defense. After giving up points on all six of the Bucs' first-half drives and 311 total yards, the Giants came out in the second half and forced punts or caused turnovers on five of the next six, while yielding only 124 yards.
Granted, they kind of fell apart on the last drive and got lucky with a missed field goal. But what they did until that point kept the Giants in the game and gave Jones a chance. So how about not putting the kid in a 28-10 hole this time, huh? How about playing defense in the first half for the first time this season? Jones can move the offense, apparently, but asking him to come back all the time is not going to help anyone out.
5. Stay creative
It was Shurmur, unplugged on Sunday afternoon, finally running the offense he's apparently been dying to run. He had designed rollouts, designed quarterback runs, lots of play-action, a couple of end arounds to Sterling Shepard and a few more that were faked.
He needs to keep that up, and maybe throw in a little razzle dazzle, too. Some coaches go into a shell when they lose their best player. But the Giants are feeling it right now. They have confidence, particularly in their rookie quarterback. So Shurmur should open up the playbook, not close it. It's going to be hard enough to establish the run, but if teams have to worry about other things - end-arounds, reverses, flea-flickers, options passes, whatever - that actually might open up lanes for Gallman.
Even just a couple of those could change the course of the game, whether they work or not.