To this point the Giants have been like a fantasy football roster: A bunch of players who have never all physically been on the field in a game together. That’s because Odell Beckham Jr. has sat out all of the preseason games and the closest he came to seeing such action was in the joint practices with the Lions . . . the week Saquon Barkley was out with a hamstring injury. Having those two game-busting play-makers available at the same time should put more torque on opposing defensive schemes than the Giants have been able to generate in years. Having Eli Manning, whose greatest asset as a quarterback might just be toggling between run and pass plays at the line of scrimmage based on defensive looks, should only elevate their dynamic.
It should also help Manning, who has already shown in the preseason what an effective play-action threat can do in terms of finding open receivers and having the time in the pocket to do so. Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram would be the focal points on offense on just about any other team in the division, but with the Giants they are more support players. They may not have the same raw number production they had last year when, after Beckham and others were lost to injury, they became the only viable options for the offense. But they’ll likely have more impact plays while defenses are trying to stop Beckham and Barkley.
Throw in a new Pat Shurmur playbook that espouses personnel diversity instead of squashing it, and an offensive line that (despite some glaring deficits) should be better than any they’ve had since their last Super Bowl, and there is no reason other than injuries why the Giants should not have huge numbers on a regular basis. It’s been two full seasons since the Giants have scored 30 or more points in a regular-season game. That should change quickly.
Good luck running against the Giants. With Damon Harrison hovering over centers as the nose tackle and flanked on either side by Dalvin Tomlinson and rookie B.J. Hill, the Giants should have one of the more impenetrable defensive fronts in the NFL. Add husky middle linebackers Alec Ogletree and B.J. Goodson crashing into the line of scrimmage and they seem to get even more stingy on the ground.
When those linebackers have to drop in coverage is when they are less effective. The Giants can scheme around that either by switching personnel and playing former college safety Ray-Ray Armstrong at linebacker in their sub packages or having a safety take on the coverage responsibilities while the linebackers rush the passer. The pass rush will also be an issue, especially if Olivier Vernon (ankle) isn’t fully healthy. Rookie Lorenzo Carter is the latest Giants draft pick tabbed to become a homegrown edge rusher, something the Giants haven’t hit on since 2010 when they selected Jason Pierre-Paul.
Keep an eye on Eli Apple because opposing quarterbacks will be. With Janoris Jenkins’ ability to lock down his side, teams will probably be throwing in Apple’s direction quite a bit. If he plays up to it, he can change that narrative. If he struggles, it could be a long third season for the former first-round pick. The most decorated player on the defense is two-time Pro Bowler and 2016 All-Pro safety Landon Collins. He has more tackles (332) than any NFL safety since he entered the league in 2015. New defensive coordinator James Bettcher will use Collins as his chessboard queen, sliding him anywhere he’s needed on the field and employing him as an aggressor rather than a defender. That should allow Collins to blossom into one of the NFL’s most exciting defenders.
Pat Shurmur doesn’t have a taste for dainty specialists. That’s just one of the ways that kicker Aldrick Rosas (6-3, 233) and punter Riley Dixon (6-5, 227) have caught his eye this summer. “They’re big, strong guys,” Shurmur said. “They look like football players to me.” That profile means nothing, of course, if they can’t get the job done. So far they have. Rosas, coming off a shaky rookie season in which he had a few costly misses, was a perfect 6-for-6 on his preseason field goal attempts. The unspoken coincidence is that he was a perfect 8-for-8 last preseason when he won the job and then slipped in the regular season. The Giants acquired Dixon in a trade with the Broncos in the offseason. Dixon had 24 punts in the preseason for a net of 39.4 and put 11 of them inside the 20 (more than any other punter in the NFL).
The biggest area where the Giants can improve is in their return game. They had 148 yards on punt returns all of last season. After trying several in-house options throughout the summer they claimed Kaelin Clay off waivers. He’s had 42 career punt returns for a 9.4-yard average including touchdowns of 60 and 82 yards.