By: Zachary F | 3GTS Staff Writer | Sept 5 2016
With the start of the NFL season on the horizon, the excitement for football is back in full swing. As the rosters are officially trimmed down to the final 53 players, this time of the year is an exciting one for the passionate fan of every team. How can it not be? No matter who you root for, given the parody of the NFL, each team has as good a chance to contend for the playoffs as any other.
For the New York Giants organization and their fans, optimism for a fresh start and a new era of Giants football is on the horizon. Coming off their 3rd consecutive losing season, the Giants have made major changes this past offseason with head coach Tom Coughlin “stepping down.” Ben McAdoo has been promoted to head coach with the benefit of providing continuity to the West Coast offense that he instilled over the last 2 seasons as offensive coordinator. Under McAdoo’s play calling, Eli Manning has produced some of his finest statistical seasons despite working behind a very shaky offensive line, and often times, non-existent running game. This season hopes to produce better dividends in the form of wins. Last season alone, 4 games could have resulted in wins for the Giants if not for grotesque mismanagement/decision making in the 4th quarter. Focusing on what lies ahead for the Giants this upcoming season, we look at some of the key factors that will influence the final record come January (or February).
The Giants opened free agency with a vengeance, acquiring some of the biggest names to hit the market. This includes former Dolphins DE Olivier Vernon, former Rams CB Janoris Jenkins, former Jets DT Damon “Snacks” Harrison, and later adding former Bengals CB Leon Hall. In addition, the Giants resigned DE Jason Pierre Paul, while letting notable players from last year’s team find new homes via free agency or by way of being cut: CB Prince Amukamara, DE Robert Ayers, WR Rueben Randle, G Geoff Schwartz, DT Cullen Jenkins, and RB Andre Williams. In respect to the draft, the Giants may have found three solid contributors within their first 3 picks in Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State), Sterling Shepard (WR, Oklahoma), and Darian Thompson (S, Boise State). In addition, Victor Cruz has shown that he can stay on the field as of late, while currently being slated as the 3rd WR in the Giant’s latest depth chart. This is a welcome relief for the entire offense because not only does it take the constant double team pressure off of Odell Beckham Jr, but it also helps the Giants utilize Dwayne Harris as a kick return specialist and occasionally having him line up as their 4th wide receiver. In addition, the presence of Cruz in the slot will help the Giants to maximize their strategy of the West Coast offense. Having Manning take 3 and 5 step drops and command a short/mid yardage passing attack will compensate for perhaps another year with a shaky offensive line.
The below chart outlines what I envision the starting offense will look like come Week 1 against the Cowboys:
With no true fullback on the team, the Giants look to establish their base offense in a three WR set. As far as the defense, depending on the health of Darian Thompson, I expect to see Nat Berhe get the start alongside Landon Collins. Since the Giants released Jasper Brinkley (who was originally slated to be the starting MLB) it appears Kelvin Sheppard will get the nod in the middle next Sunday. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins will be the starting cornerbacks, but because opposing offenses employ three wide receiver sets more often in earlier downs, don’t be surprised to see Eli Apple come in to play the outside corner position with DRC then sliding into the nickel corner position to cover the opposing slot receiver.
The Giants finished their 2015 campaign by placing 3rd in the NFC East, thereby being matched up in 2016 against the respective 3rd place finishing teams in the other NFC Divisions. The Giants also draw the likes of the NFC West and AFC Central for 2016. Because the Giants travel to London to face the Rams in October, their bye week comes immediately afterwards, which falls during week 8. Looking through their schedule, the below are a few of their opponents and some key things to look forward too with each matchup:
Giants at Cowboys (Week 1, Sept 11): The Giants start the season squaring off against the Cowboys for the 4th time in the past 5 seasons. This game will be of importance not only to start the season off on the right foot, but to take advantage of a team that is missing key players due to injury and suspensions. With Tony Romo sidelined through at least October, the Giants will face rookie quarterback Dak Prescott. Watching a lot of SEC games last season as well as some Cowboys’ preseason games this year, Prescott looks every bit the quarterback that he was at Mississippi State during the few auditions he’s had this summer. I liken him to a Russell Wilson in that he’s shown that he can pass from the pocket first, yet has the speed to scramble and extend plays with his legs if need be. The disadvantage for the Giants is that they do not have much game tape on him yet against pro schematic defenses and this could present a problem if they aren’t prepared for his athleticism. We’ve seen this when the Giants first faced RGIII in 2012 as well as other mobile quarterbacks in recent memory. Fortunately for the Giants, they will not have to face three key defensive players in Rolando McClain, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Randy Gregory, who will all be out due to suspensions. The ultimate key to winning this game for the Giants will be in the trenches. If the Giants revamped defensive line can hold and apply pressure against the Cowboys all-pro offensive line, I believe the Giants will have the advantage. If not, and the Giants allow Prescott to get comfortable by handing the ball off for large yardage gains to Ezekiel Elliott, the Giants could be in for a long 60 minutes.
Giants at Vikings (Week 4, Oct 3): The Giants travel to Minnesota to take on the Vikings in their new U.S. Bank Stadium for a Monday night matchup. History has not been on the Giants side when the Giants travel to Minnesota. Just last year the Giants were pummeled by the Vikings 49-17 with Eli Manning throwing 3 interceptions in a game that had Odell Beckham sidelined with a suspension. However, this year, the Giants catch a break in their matchup due to the devastating injury to Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater, entering into his 3rd season, was poised to lead a Vikings roster that many considered to be “Super Bowl ready.” Now, the Giants will either face Shaun Hill or Sam Bradford. Bradford was recently traded to the Eagles for two draft picks, one of them being a 1st rounder. This game is one the Giants need to come away with a win because only 6 short days later, they travel back to the midwest to face the Packers on Sunday night at Lambeau Field.
Giants at Redskins (Week 17, Jan 1): Although the Giants face the Redskins in week 3 at home, they end the season having to travel to Washington to take on the defending NFC East Champions. The Redskins look solid enough to challenge for the top of the NFC East again this year with Kirk Cousins heading into his 2nd full season as a starter and the Redskins returning WR’s Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, Jamison Crowder and TE Jordan Reed. In addition, the Redskins used their top draft pick in selecting WR Josh Doctson (TCU) in the 1st round of this year’s draft. As far as defense, the Redskins upgraded significantly by signing cornerback Josh Norman (Panthers) and safety David Bruton (Broncos). On paper (and looking way too far out way too early), this game may end up being the “make or break” game the Giants need to win to get into the playoffs. Again, it’s way too early for these types of predictions, however what will be more realistic is the outcome of how these 2 teams perform against each other at MetLife Stadium a few weeks from now, and if Odell Beckham can get the better of the matchup against Josh Norman.
The entire schedule is shown below. Keep in mind that the Giants/Rams game during week 7 is being played in London. In addition, NFL flex scheduling procedures go into effect beginning with week 5, however this only affects games scheduled on Sunday (Thursday & Monday games are not at risk to be moved).
The Giants largest struggles last year were their offensive and defensive lines. The inability and ineffectiveness to win the battles in the trenches had direct impacts on all the rest of the units. On offense, Manning was afforded very little time to allow plays to develop, while the running game failed to ever establish itself early enough in games due to the offensive line getting constantly pushed backwards. Despite all this, the Giants still boasted a top 10 offense. For 2016, the Giants will have Will Beatty (recently re-signed) as additional depth at tackle and he could possibly replace Marshall Newhouse at right tackle. The offensive line as a whole needs to do a much better job if the entire offensive unit wants to take that next step forward.
As for the defense, the Giants have revamped their front 4, solidified their secondary, and although the linebacker position is still a large question mark, the defense should perform at a better rate than ranking 32nd in the league like they did last year. The Giants ineffectiveness to stop teams at the end of games in 2015 was a trademark of their defense. This year, relying on players that can get to the quarterback and playmakers that can disrupt the timing of an opponent’s offense will be, what I feel, the modus operandi of the Giants defense. Watching the first team defense in preseason this summer, we’ve experienced a pass rush quickness, run stopping stoutness, and an explosiveness in the front 4 that we haven’t witnessed in quite some time with this team. Perhaps this year will be a renaissance to the era of 2007 when the Giants stacked players such as Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, and Osi Umenyiora all on the front line and relied on both scheme and pure playmaking ability upfront to drive the engine of that defense. Steve Spagnuolo was the defensive coordinator back then and will command the defense in present day 2016. The success of his defense is truly what will make or break this team as a whole more than any other factor this year.
I’m sure the players, coaches, management, and the Giants organization would like nothing more than to compete at the highest level on the grandest of stages in February of 2016. They always say that they take one game at a time and that they don’t look ahead further then their next opponent. Luckily for us, that next opponent is just a few short days away, and we will finally get to experience what this team is made of and what they can possibly accomplish, soon enough.