Sep 092022
 
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Brian Daboll, New York Giants (August 21, 2022)

Brian Daboll – © USA TODAY Sports

THE STORYLINE:
It’s going to be hard for many New York Giants fans to accept the reality that this team is starting over from scratch again. What transpired for the past 10 years means nothing. The franchise receives no credit points for those previous rebuilding seasons. The Giants have decided to go back to the starting line and will have to begin the race all over again. So screaming, “How long is going to take to rebuild this team?!?” completely misses the point. It’s the wrong way to think about the Giants’ current situation. The response to that question is, “What are you talking about? They just started.”

The 2022 NFL season for the New York Giants really isn’t about contending for a Super Bowl title. It’s about getting their own house in order, evaluating the team in order to make wise long-term decisions, and simply showing competency and progress. Those are not very exciting goals, but they are necessary steps on a long road back to respectability.

We have no idea how this team will perform. It could be as bad as many expect and vie for another top-10 draft pick. It could exceed expectations and remain mathematically alive for a playoff spot into December. Beating the Tennessee Titans would be nice, but what’s more important is that this team IMPROVES as the year progresses. We want the team to look stronger and better in December than it does in September. For 10 years, the Giants have been a team spinning its wheels with an occasional tease each season, only to humiliate itself once again. So my advice is not to overreact to one game or a fast or slow start, but understand the ultimate goal is to begin building a legitimate, stable foundation.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Sterling Shepard (Achilles – probable)
  • OLB Kayvon Thibodeaux (knee – doubtful)
  • OLB Azeez Ojulari (calf – doubtful)
  • S Dane Belton (clavicle – questionable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Let’s take a step back for a moment and look at the big picture. Where are the New York Giants as an offensive team?

Of the five offensive players who count the most (almost $52 million) against the 2022 salary cap, there is a good chance that four of them will not be on the team in 2023: WR Kenny Golladay ($21 million), QB Daniel Jones ($8 million), RB Saquon Barkley ($7 million), and WR Sterling Shepard ($6 million). Jones and Barkley are currently the faces of the offense and yet both are on the final year of their rookie contracts. As of this moment, re-signing either to big contracts makes little sense. Golladay may be the worst free agent signing in Giants’ history, which is saying something for a team that made Nate Solder the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL. Shepard simply can’t stay healthy and his numbers have been pedestrian at best.

The talent situation at the skill positions does not appear good. Golladay had another very quiet summer and that doesn’t bode well for the $72 million receiver looking to score his first touchdown. First-rounder Kadarius Toney spent most of the summer on the sidelines again. Shepard is coming back from an Achilles’ tendon injury and that’s always a dicey affair. Wan’Dale Robinson has yet to prove he was worthy of a high pick. Darius Slayton has been a big disappointment since his promising rookie year. The guy who Jones seems to have the best chemistry with, David Sills, can’t separate consistently from starting NFL defensive backs. The tight end situation is worse. Daniel Bellinger is a rookie with a lot to learn. Chris Myarick and Tanner Hudson are castoffs. 

So is the situation as dreary as it appears on paper? I would argue no. The Giants appear to be flipping the script. You can make the case right now that the offensive line is the strength of the team. No, it’s not perfect. The injuries to Shane Lemieux and Joshua Ezeudu make left guard unstable. Jon Feliciano, and probably his primary back-up at center, Ben Bredeson, missed a lot of time with injuries. Right tackle Evan Neal will go through rookie growing pains. But the foundation is there. Not just to be competent, but to be a very good offensive line. If a team can block on offense, it will cover a lot of sins in other places. The Giants may finally become a more physical football team. That’s obviously a good thing.

The other positive is the Giants have two offensive minds who are well-respected around the league in Head Coach Brian Daboll and Offensive Coordinator Mike Kafka. Both are going to bring the New York Giants’ offensive system into the modern contemporary era. Finally we will get to see some innovation on offense. Based on what we saw from the preseason, it appears Daboll and Kafka are going to use the quick, short passing game to keep negative plays to a minimum and stay ahead of the sticks. My guess is the focus will be on yards after the catch by getting the ball out quickly to players such as Barkley, Breida, Robinson, Toney, and Shepard. Combine that with a no-nonsense running game that actually moved the ball past the line of scrimmage, rather than getting tackled for no or negative yardage, in the preseason.

Tennessee is not an ideal opponent to start the season. They play old-school football and are a winning team because they physically beat up on their opponents. They have a very strong front seven and rapidly improving secondary full of talented youngsters. Last year, they had the #2 run defense in the entire NFL. Jeffery Simmons can be dominant at defensive tackle both against the run and the pass. He and Denico Autry combined for a super-impressive 17.5 sacks. Teair Tart is solid at nose tackle.

The Titans did get horrible news at the beginning of the month when Pro Bowl OLB Harold Landry (12 sacks in 2021) tore his ACL in practice. There will be more pressure on ex-Steeler Bud Dupree to live up to his contract. OLB Ola Adeniyi impressed as back-up in 2021 and now takes over for Landry. He was limited this week in practice with a neck injury however. Zach Cunningham are David Long Jr. are steady, sure tacklers inside.

All-Pro Kevin Byard is an elite player at free safety. Amani Hooker is solid at strong safety. Kristian Fulton has quickly become one of the league’s better corners. 2021 first-rounder Caleb Farley mans the other corner spot. He’s coming off an ACL. Roger McCreary was drafted in the second round. Elijah Molden, who may miss this game with a groin injury, is the nickel corner. Don’t be shocked if this group becomes the best secondary in the NFL.

I don’t see the Giants making a living against the Titans running the ball. And holding the ball against that pass rush is not ideal either. Expect a large dose of the short passing game. My guess is Daboll and Kafka hid a lot of schematic stuff in the preseason, with the hope of catching this strong defense by surprise. Two or three big plays with big YAC could mean all the difference. Watch for Barkley and Robinson in particular. I’d like to include Toney in that group, but who knows what the team will get from him on a weekly basis?

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Again, let’s start off with the big picture first. Full disclosure – I’m a big fan of Wink Martindale’s philosophical approach to football. He is fond of saying pressure breaks pipes. His intent is to dictate to the offense rather than have the offense dictate to him. Is it risky? You bet. We may see far more big play touchdowns scored against the Giants this year. The league has moved more towards bend-but-don’t-break as offensive rules have become more liberalized each year. Other defensive coordinators believe it is safer to not give up the big play and force the opposing offense to not make a mistake during 8-12 play possession. Personally, I can’t stand that style of football. It’s too passive for me. Wink – for better or worse – is bucking the trend and going old school.

Historically speaking, Wink’s defenses were top tier in Baltimore until injuries riddled the Ravens’ defense in 2021. Yet even in that season, they were #1 in run defense. Martindale knows how to defend the run. He’s proven it. The question is does he have the horses in New York to be equally successful? They will be tested right out of the gate one of the NFL’s very best rushing attacks. Indeed, the obvious key to stopping the Titans is to stop Derrick Henry and company from running the ball down your throat. Keep in mind that Henry is not just a battering ram; he’s a threat to break the big run on every play. Martindale won’t just have his troops line-up in predictable spots. He is going to change things up and make it difficult for the Tennessee blockers to figure out who to block on each given play. The chess match will be fascinating to watch.

If you look at the Giants on paper, they have some very good chess pieces. Leonard Williams is one of the better defensive linemen in the game. Dexter Lawrence had a strong camp and looks primed for a big season from his more natural nose tackle position. Xavier McKinney has the ability to become an impact player at safety. Adoree’ Jackson – if he can stay healthy – also seems ready possibly have his best season as the team’s clearcut #1 corner. Julian Love has turned into a team leader and seems like the kind of versatile player who Martindale will move all over the place. The wild cards right now are Kayvon Thibodeaxu and Azeez Ojulari. If these two can reach their potential, this defense could end up being one of the league’s best. First, they have to get on the field. Both have suffered injuries that could nag them for a while. If they miss this game, the uphill fight to pull off the upset becomes even tougher. Guys like Jihad Ward and Oshane Ximines will really be on the spot. Ximines, in particular, has never been a stout run defender. Look for the Titans to target him.

The strategy is obvious. Stop the run. Make Ryan Tannehill and a mediocre group of wide receivers and tight ends beat you. The best receiving weapon they have is ex-Ram Robert Woods. If the Giants can do that, they have a fighting chance in this game. When Tannehill does put the ball up, expect him to repeatedly target Aaron Robinson, who struggled in preseason games. The entire defense not overreacting to play-action will be decisive. The pressure is on Tannehill. Some fans are already pining for Malik Willis to play.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Giants are going to go into the season with the Scottish Hammer at punter. Many thought he would have been replaced by a veteran cut late August. We’ll have to see how that plays out. The coverage teams struggled in the preseason and hopefully will rebound with the bullets counting for real. The return game remains a question mark for New York as well. It appears Gary Brightwell will be the kick returner and Richie James the punt returner.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Defensive Coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale on Derrick Henry:He’s a physical guy; and it could be one cut and go. And it can be whatever he wants it to be at certain times. And he’s just a very talented back. I always get caught in comparing people and everything else, but he’s like our modern-day Jim Brown, I think. He’s just that much different when he has the ball in his hands, so it’s a challenge every time he touches it.

THE FINAL WORD:
The Titans are an extremely well-coach, fundamentally-sound, physical football team. In a lot of ways, they are reminiscent of the style of play of the 1990 New York Giants. Just beat up on the other team and wear them down. Run the ball, play good defense, keep mistakes to a minimum, and pressure the other team to make the game-deciding mistakes. It’s a conservative approach, but it works. The down side for the Titans is often allows inferior teams to keep the score close.

The Titans were the AFC’s #1 seed in 2021 and came close to making it to the AFC Championship Game. But I would not be shocked if the Giants keep this close or even pull off a big upset. They just have to do the obvious things: stop the run and don’t make killer mistakes on offense. Two or three big offensive plays could be all New York needs to make this interesting. On the flip side, it is not the end of the world if the Giants lose this game. This is one of Giants’ toughest opponents on their entire schedule. The pressure is on Titans and not the Giants in this one. I like those kind of games.

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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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