A retooled defense and a shaky offense earned the New York Giants an 11-5 regular season record and a Wild Card playoff berth last year under rookie head coach Ben McAdoo. Now, they’re back for more.
In their Wild Card playoff game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, all that was wrong with the Giants was exposed: the inability to consistently put together long drives, the inefficiency turning turnovers into points, the incapability to run block and the failure to contain a god-like Aaron Rodgers. A controversial Miami boat getaway and season-long deficiencies showed the Giants to the offseason, Eli Manning one season older.
Wide Receiver Odell Beckham Jr., the epicenter of the Miami episode, told reporters last week he is using his poor performance in his first playoff game as fuel for this season, which holds high expectations for Big Blue and their fans.
One of several offensive issues last year was the lack of support Beckham Jr. received last year catching passes. Sterling Shepard had a solid, promising rookie campaign, but Victor Cruz was largely ineffective, Will Tye showed occasional signs of competence and the player with the next most receiving yards was….Rashad Jennings, the running back the team released this offseason. That tells you all you need to know about the New York offense last year.
Actually, I lied. It doesn’t tell you everything. What held the Giants’ offense back last year, and is primed to do so again this year, was the offensive line. Eli Manning didn’t take a large amount of sacks but only….because he got rid of the ball so quickly or dumped the pigskin into the turf the moment any danger could’ve arisen. There was a lot of pressure in Eli Manning’s face, especially when defenses knew the Giants were going to pass after failing to run for positive yards. Aside from Center Weston Richburg and Guard Justin Pugh, there were few bright spots up front.
Former Baltimore Ravens Coach Brian Billick, winning coach of Super Bowl XXXV, said earlier this offseason the Giants first and foremost need to be able to run the ball. Last year, when the Giants offense was able to close a game, which was rare, they did it on the ground, and MetLife Stadium roared in support with a side of sarcasm. Yes, the offensive line did create that hole, the defensive lineman didn’t fall down. And yes, Rashad Jennings did run for over 20 yards on one play.
That lengthy review of last year serves as a good launch point for this year’s edition of the New York Football Giants. The roster hasn’t changed all that much on the defensive side of the ball except for the loss of underappreciated Defensive Tackle Johnathan Hankins, who left for the Colts in free agency. The defense, which ranked number two in scoring last year, returns nearly all starters and looks to gel even more this year. The loss of Hankins will hurt, but second-round pick Dalvin Tomlinson has impressed in camp as has Jay Bromley. Both will vie for playing time alongside All-Pro Defensive Tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison on the interior of the defensive line.
The secondary came together nicely last year and also looks to solidify itself as one of the league’s best. All-Pro Safety Landon Collins leads the way with Pro Bowl Cornerback Janoris Jenkins. Having Eli Apple, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Nat Berhe and Darian Thompson healthy will give quarterbacks fits. The key unknown of this defense is the linebacker position. It wasn’t bad last year, but it misses a stud. Jonathan Casillas led the unit admirably last year with 96 tackles, second most behind Landon Collins’ 125, according to ESPN.com. Ben McAdoo and co. like what they’ve seen from B.J. Goodson and Devon Kennard. If those two players can step up, this defense will be dangerous at all three levels and have a chance to improve on last year’s numbers even while playing a tougher schedule.
The defense can stay seated for a moment, now. Hopefully they can say that once the regular season starts, because they were on the field A LOT. The offense ranked 29th in time of possession, lasting just over 28 minutes per game, according to NFL stats. The Giants primarily addressed the offense, but not the pieces that mattered the most. General Manager Jerry Reese went out and got Manning some nice new toys in Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram, but Manning can only play with them if he has time to throw.
What Jerry Reese didn’t buy Manning was time to throw. The offensive line has been upgraded marginally at best. Bringing in average lineman D.J. Fluker is a short-term gamble and drafting Adam Bisnowaty in the sixth round is not the answer, either. The coaching staff said it sees improvement in Right Tackle Bobby Hart which is a positive, but the most critical part of the line is the most worrisome. Left Guard Ereck Flowers, who protects Eli Manning’s blindside, has proven in two years to be no more useful than a plastic blocking dummy. Pro Football Focus rated Flowers the number 62 tackle in the league. The Giants spent a top-ten pick on him two years ago and aren’t giving up on him yet, but if he continues to be the liability Giants fans have come to know and loathe, management will be looking for a new left tackle soon. One of the biggest problems with the offense was its predictability, and even though Ben McAdoo will be more comfortable calling plays in year two as head coach, he can only be so creative with a lackluster offensive line.
This Giants team, with no outside factors, is better than last year on paper. Add in those outside factors, though, and the outlook gets tougher. Big Blue benefitted in 2016 from the previous year’s 6-10 record and third place finish in the NFC East, giving them an easier schedule. The defense didn’t many offensive juggernauts and eventually cracked after one stellar half against Aaron Rodgers. This year, the Giants (11-5 last year) play a second place schedule as well as the AFC West, what many football junkies consider the best division in football. With a turbulent but talented NFC East, the Giants could eek out the division but it’s more likely they nab a Wild Card spot with low double-digit wins. It all makes for a very interesting year, one fans and writers think could culminate in Super Bowl LII with Giants-Patriots Act III. I’m not yet ready to jump there, but I’m certainly not ruling it out.