Without either of its top two running backs available for Week 6’s game against the New England Patriots, the New York Giants offense turns to third- and fourth-string players on the depth chart.
The injured Giants (2-3) get the undefeated Patriots (5-0) Thursday at 8:20 p.m. ET after the team ruled out starter Saquon Barkley (ankle) and backup Wayne Gallman (concussion) among four offensive players sidelined, throwing the next men up into the spotlight.
Those are Eli Penny and Jon Hilliman, who have ascended to the top of the rotation after they started their 2019 campaigns as afterthoughts behind the 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year and a third-year Giant.
The Giants and rookie quarterback Daniel Jones are sure to be tested against the league’s top-ranked defense — the Patriots have allowed 238.4 yards on average through the regular season’s five games — but absences of Barkley and Gallman create opportunities for Penny and Hilliman.
Of the two, second-year head coach Pat Shurmur has seen flashes from Penny since he came over for his 2018 season with the Giants via the Arizona Cardinals.
“I think he’s a good runner,” Shurmur said Tuesday of Penny. “He has good vision. He has good collision balance. To this point, when we’ve handed it to him, he’s secured it well. Those are all of the elements that you’re looking for in a runner.”
Jones, who has completed 67 of 105 passes (63.8 percent) for 743 yards and four touchdowns to three interceptions with two scores on 73 yards and 12 rushes (6.1 per carry) while going 2-1 in three starts, loses Barkley and Gallman but embraces Penny and Hilliman.
“Like the other positions, I think we have guys who have stepped up so far, who have played well when they’ve had opportunities, so I think we’re confident in them,” Jones said Monday.” I think losing Saquon, losing Wayne, those are two really good players and two guys who have made a lot of plays, but like I said, we’re confident in those guys — Penny and Jon have played really well, so we’ll be good to go.”
The 6-foot-2, 234-pound Penny moved to fullback as he adapted to life in the NFL on 53-man rosters, but the undrafted fourth-year pro from Idaho is back at his natural position now.
As a rookie from nearby Rutgers, the 6-foot, 226-pound Hilliman has taken more reps with 19 carries for 53 yards (2.8 average) continues to get acclimated off the practice squad.
In the Giants’ past two games, Penny has taken six carries for 27 yards (4.5 average), but the numbers are expected to rise for both running backs now without Barkley and Gallman.
“EP … he was going,” Barkley said Tuesday of Penny. “He was doing really well. He was doing his thing. I’m excited to see him. That’s the stuff that you love that goes unnoticed. They may not get all of the love and the shine or all of the credit, but for him to go in there and get back to his running back days … I think he did a really good job not just only in running back, as fullback. The last few years, he’s been definitely beneficial to me and has helped me out a lot to grow — not only into the person, but into the player I am.”