On paper, this is a match-up between two teams with very similar strengths and weaknesses. Both teams appear to have had very strong offseasons in acquiring new players to shore up obvious flaws.
The Broncos are loaded at the skill positions, but have a huge question mark at quarterback. They are more settled on the offensive line however.
Defensively, after a subpar season in 2020 (21st in yards allowed), the Broncos are expected to be one of the NFL’s top defenses, with strength at all three levels. Of note, they have a couple of dangerous pass rushers and are loaded in a revamped secondary.
The expectation is that both teams will play it close to the vest in this one, relying on their running games and defenses to keep pressure off of their respective quarterbacks. In such contests, mistakes and special teams plays usually prove decisive. Don’t expect a lot of scoring.
THE INJURY REPORT:
- RB Saquon Barkley (knee – questionable)
- WR Kenny Golladay (hamstring – probable)
- WR Kadarius Toney (hamstring – probable)
- TE Evan Engram (calf – out)
- TE Kyle Rudolph (foot – probable)
- TE Kaden Smith (knee – probable)
- LT Andrew Thomas (ankle – probable)
- NT Danny Shelton (neck – probable)
- LB Justin Hilliard (foot – probable)
- CB Adoree’ Jackson (ankle – questionable)
- CB Josh Jackson (calf – probable)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
I’ll be frank. There are so many unknown variables at this point that it is extremely difficult to anticipate what to expect. How much will Saquon Barkley play and how rusty will he be? Same story will Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, and Kyle Rudolph? These guys missed so much time, one has to assume they are still at the beginning stages of developing chemistry with one another. Will the offensive line continue to be a train wreck or unexpectedly begin to show improvement against the likes of edge rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb? What the heck do the Giants have in Daniel Jones?
Due to injuries and talent issues in the secondary, Denver’s defense was not good last year. But Von Miller missed all of the season and is back. And the Broncos completely transformed their secondary with the additions of Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, Mike Ford, and Patrick Surtain. In addition, slot corner Bryce Callahan is one of the better players at his position. Miller is 32, but he still has 106 career sacks. Chubb has 20.5 sacks in three seasons, despite missing most of 2019 with an injury. They can get after the passer and will put tremendous pressure on both Andrew Thomas and Nate Solder. Daniel Jones won’t have much time to throw against a secondary that is expected to be a top-5 unit.
So what’s the obvious strategy? Run the football. Minimize killer plays such as holding penalties, sacks, and turnovers. Don’t be stupid with the football and rely on your defense to force the other team to make mistakes. The one question mark Denver’s defense has is their ability to stop the run. Test it. This will have the added advantage of putting less stress on the still-developing, mostly youthful offensive line and allow them to play to their strength (run blocking).
The great unknown here is the status of Barkley. There is a major drop-off from Barkley to Devontae Booker. In addition, when Barkley first came back from injury in 2019, he appeared a bit gun-shy and that was with a far lesser injury. Barkley has virtually no significant contact since being hurt. How will he respond? How many touches will he get as a runner and receiver? How rusty will he be?
When the Giants do throw the football, Daniel Jones should mostly use the short passing game and rely on his weapons to do damage after the catch. One would think Barkley (unless he is on a stringent pitch count), Sterling Shepard, and Kyle Rudolph would see a lot of touches.
Which leads us to the quarterbacks. Daniel Jones (the 6th player taken in the 2019 Draft) versus journeyman Teddy Bridgewater (5th NFL team in eight seasons). Yes, Bridgewater has the stronger offensive line and that can make a world of difference (see the Giants up-and-down play last year). But Jones needs to be the better player on Sunday. He is supposed to be the better player. Jones is not going to light it up against this Denver defense, but don’t lose the game. And put ENOUGH points on the board to win it.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Giants were 12th in yards allowed and 9th in points allowed defensively in 2020. This was despite a revolving door of barely adequate players at corner opposite of James Bradberry and edge rusher when the Giants lost both of their starters early in the season. New York’s strong offseason was sabotaged a bit due to injuries to CB Aaron Robinson (still on the PUP) and LB Elerson Smith (on short-term IR). But the defense is still expected to be stronger in year two of Patrick Graham’s system. Adoree’ Jackson (who is still nursing a ankle injury and may be a bit rusty in this one) is a major upgrade at corner. Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines are better pass rushers than what the team rolled out last year when they went down. And Azeez Ojulari was added in the draft. The Giants have a nice combination of experience, youth, talent, and versatility at safety, enabling Graham to run a variety of packages. And despite the loss of Davin Tomlinson in free agency, New York still appears stout up front, led by Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence.
Which brings us to a Denver Broncos team that appears loaded everywhere except quarterback. They have the running backs (Melvin Gordon, Javonte Williams), tight ends (Noah Fant, Eric Saubert), and wide receivers (Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, Tim Patrick). The offensive line is anchored by left tackle Garett Bolles, whose play has improved dramatically. The rest of the line is steady enough to do the job.
So in a nutshell, all Bridgewater needs to do is “manage” the game and not screw up. Denver’s coaches won’t want to put the game in his hands so, like with the Giants, expect a more run-centric game plan on Sunday and probably an emphasis on the short passing game with run-after-the-catch gains. Bridgewater does get the ball out quickly. Denver is loaded at wide receiver, but the Giants’ strength is their secondary. That said, the secondary can’t sleep on deep throws. Denver has wideouts who can run right by you.
Run defense will be key. And Patrick Graham is a bit worried that his run defense is not where it should be right now. “We’re so behind on the run game just in general in terms of the football – off-season, training camp, because in the off-season we don’t really do it,” said Graham on Thursday. “I know this, where we’re going to be on Sunday, hopefully, a few Sundays from now and 10 Sundays from now we’re going to be a lot better. I have confidence in the players that are here because they understand how we want to play the run… We’ve got to set an edge and build a wall… I don’t know how Sunday is going to go, but if we work it and we’ve just got to make sure that we keep striving to get better.”
Last year, Graham’s defense would have issues starting and finishing halves. In a game where points will be at a premium, New York’s defense needs to start and finish strong. If they bend, don’t break in the red zone. And turnovers probably will decide the game. See ball, get ball.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The great unknown here still is who will return kick and punt returns for the Giants. C.J. Board is on the Practice Squad but could be brought up. Will Judge really have Jabrill Peppers return punts? Will Kadarius Toney be thrown in there at either return spot?
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett on the Bronco’s defense: “They have a system they believe in. (Broncos Head Coach) Vic Fangio’s been a great, great defensive coordinator in the National Football League for a long time. He and (Broncos Defensive Coordinator) Ed Donatell work really well together. They have a system that they used in a lot of different places. So, I think it starts with that, but then the most important stuff is who’s implementing that system. They’ve done a really good job building that defense. They’re really good on the front. They’re really good at the linebacker level. They’re really good on the back end. So, we have challenges all over the place on Sunday.”
THE FINAL WORD:
I can’t overemphasize enough how precious points will be on Sunday. Settling for a field goal instead of a touchdown in the red zone could very well be the difference in the game. Likewise, a turnover in the red zone could prove devastating. This works both ways. New York’s offense needs to put up touchdowns and New York’s defense needs to force field goals. And I’m pretty darn sure that the team that turns the football over more is going to lose.
This is a winnable game for the Giants, but they have to start off strong, not make too many mistakes, and finish strong. The Giants also need (and should expect) Daniel Jones to out-play Teddy Bridgewater.