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Three keys to Giants' 2021 season

Giants running back Saquon Barkley warms up before

Giants running back Saquon Barkley warms up before a preseason game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021. Credit: AP/Noah K. Murray

1. Barkley's return: Saquon Barkley is back. Will the explosive plays that made him the second overall pick and 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year be back, too? The reality is Barkley has not been the same since early in the 2019 season when he suffered a high ankle sprain. He was able to function in the second half of that season and eked out a 1,000-yard year, and his production was awful in the game and a half before he tore his ACL last September. The Giants aren’t the only side counting on Barkley coming back in pre-injury form. The running back himself is in the fourth year of his five-year rookie deal and needs to prove he can still be a transcendent talent if he wants to land a transcendent second contract here … or elsewhere.

2. Line it up: The Giants have essentially gambled the season on the development of their young offensive linemen. If second-year tackles Andrew Thomas and Matt Peart, guards Will Hernandez and Shane Lemieux, and center Nick Gates – all 25 years old or younger – can start to live up to the faith the front office has shown in them the Giants should be able to function as an offense. If they can’t, then the 2021 season can pretty much be chalked up as another in a series of disappointments due chiefly to the inability to protect the quarterback and open holes for the running backs.

3. Under pressure: The one weakness on the defense is edge rusher where the Giants are hoping someone will step up and provide some sack numbers. Last year they managed to rack up 40 last year, but 21 of those came from defensive lineman (including 11.5 from Leonard Williams) and another 4.0 were from the players in the secondary. The only outside linebacker with more than 1.5 sacks all year was Kyler Fackrell, and he left in free agency. The Giants may have to rely on defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s schemes to put pressure on quarterbacks more than individual dominance, but it would be nice if Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines or rookie Azeez Ojulari could flirt with double digit sack totals this season.

Season prediction

The Giants won just six games last season but were still in contention for a division title and playoff spot up until the league’s final regular-season game (thanks again, Eagles!). This year they should be better and take another step in the progression that Joe Judge has in mind for the franchise, yet ironically further removed from a postseason berth. They’ll finish 8-9 for a fifth-straight losing season and eight in the last nine.

New York Sports