1. The first thing you look for every time you put on Giants film: How is the opponent tactically defending Odell Beckham Jr.? Or, perhaps more accurately, how is the opponent doubling Beckham? Nothing will change this season, even with six-time Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall now aboard. Beckham (as long as he’s healthy) will remain Enemy No. 1 for defenses because there isn’t a more threatening big-play weapon in football. Marshall, for the first time in his career, can expect to regularly see normal coverage to his side of the field. The big-bodied 33-year-old should thrive in a Giants offense that features slant routes.
2. Those slant routes comprise the backbone of head coach Ben McAdoo’s system, which is based on simplicity and execution. The Giants play in the same personnel package (“11”: one RB and one TE with three wide receivers) on virtually every snap. Their formations tend to be static, and they get to the line early so that Eli Manning can survey the defense and call adjustments. It’s a very straightforward approach.
3. This running game, ranked 29th a year ago, must improve. It’s hard because when you’re a three-receiver offense, your box only has six run-blockers (the O-line and tight end). That means you create fewer gaps, you have far fewer formations, and therefore you have a restricted array of run designs. (On the bright side, you often face fewer defenders in the box.) Really, there are only two runs in New York’s ground game, and they both occur primarily out of shotgun: inside zone, with double-teams right up the gut, and “power,” with a pulling guard.
4. Something the Giants love to do is throw play-action off of that “power” look. The pulling guard action impacts the outside linebackers, allowing Manning to target the tight end down the seam. With first-round rookie Evan Engram, the Giants have a weapon who can consistently capitalize on these plays.
5. Eli Manning has always been prone to the occasional boneheaded turnover. Overall, he more than compensates for those blunders with everything else he does. That said, Manning had far too many interceptions against underneath zone defenders in basic coverages last season. That shouldn’t happen with a 14-year veteran QB.
6. The defense carried this team in 2016. And it’s pretty much the same personnel entering 2017. Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will be an even more creative, aggressive play-caller now that he has a year of familiarity with his lineup. (Last season, he was learning on the fly about new pieces like CB Janoris Jenkins, CB Eli Apple, DT Damon Harrison and DE Olivier Vernon. Not a bad quartet of newcomers, by the way.) Spagnuolo loves to blitz. Unconventionally, he’ll play zone coverage behind those blitzes, rather than the usual man-to-man. This isn’t to say he won’t play man; Jenkins, Apple and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are all superb here, allowing Spagnuolo to craft just about any blitz he wants.
7. A featured blitzer is often Landon Collins. Spagnuolo has been very shrewd in figuring out how to use the third-year safety. Collins is not good in reactionary mode. He struggles when forced into a backpedal, which is why you see teams go after him in man coverage. But in attack mode? Collins is as dangerous as almost any defender in football. The Giants have concocted more and more ways to put him in attack mode. Last season, it led to five interceptions, four sacks and steady, fervid tackling against the run.
8. General manager Jerry Reese has always prioritized defensive linemen over linebackers. (During his 11-year tenure, Reese has only drafted a linebacker in the first three rounds once, Clint Sintim in the second in ’09.) Reese’s thinking is: If you’re great along the first level of D, you’ll be naturally effective at the second level. None of New York’s linebackers are exceptional (though Devon Kennard is a reliable strongside player, which is important in Spagnuolo’s scheme). However, three of New York’s defensive linemen are among the league’s top-tier of run defenders: ends Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul, and defensive tackle Damon Harrison.
9. This was the third-ranked rush defense in 2016, but at times it could be a little vulnerable to designed outside runs. Part of that was because the Giants outside corners were so matchup-centric in their coverage approach that they often failed to have eyes on the ball, instead just focusing on their receiver. (What also happens in matchup coverages is that when the receiver runs a route, the defender follows. So the receiver need only run a route away from where the running play is going.) This is something the Giants can clean up rather easily, but expect to see teams try to attack their run D on the perimeter early this season.
10. Cornerback Eli Apple plays with an eerie sense of calm that makes him deft in mirror technique coverage. Apple also showed better zone awareness over the course of his rookie season. He’s already on the verge of stardom.
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