Another NFL season is upon us, and oh, what a time of the year it is!
It's a time in which, except for Dallas and Tampa, who opened the 2021 campaign on Thursday night, everyone else is 0-0 and filled with all kinds of optimism and hope for the next several months.
Some of those teams will recognize their potential and achieve their goals of winning a division and making it to the playoffs. Others will have their hearts broken and be staring at another long off-season ahead by the end of the season in early January.
Only time will tell which side of the fence the Giants land on, but we'll begin to get answers to several long-awaited questions starting Sunday at 4:35 when the Giants host the Denver Broncos in the 2021 season opener.
Until then, a few thoughts about the past several weeks and what lies ahead...
1. I'm thrilled that running back Saquon Barkley will be back on the field Sunday as he not only resumes his NFL career but launches what could be a very promising "Comeback Player of the Year" campaign.
That said, I'm just a little confused about something head coach Joe Judge said this week regarding Barkley, something I see as a contradictory statement.
The question had to do with what kind of workload Barkley might get in his first live NFL action in nearly a year. Here's what Judge said:
In terms of specific rep numbers and pitch counts, to me, it's just more important to know that this guy’s healthy. To me, if you go out there for one snap, I want to make sure you're able to go out for that one snap full speed.
In terms of the volume that we may play any specific player, a lot of it will be dictated by the flow of the game. A lot of decisions get made in-game. I wouldn't want to take someone into a game where we say he can only do this, and then all of a sudden, you get to a point you have to do more. If you go in with a certain plan, you want to stick to that plan as best you can, knowing what's best for an individual player.
In other words, it doesn't sound like a pitch count is being considered for Barkley's first action back. I find that interesting because dating back to the spring, the Giants have brought Barkley along at a deliberate pace, making sure that he had no setbacks and could do what was asked of him.
I mean, I get it. Back then, the Giants had all kinds of time to where they could afford to map out Barkley's activity toward his return. But then again, all the while, Judge spoke of not wanting to jeopardize all the hard work the running back put into his rehab by asking him to overdo it, and now suddenly, because there is a game that counts, that plan is going to go out the window?
Maybe I'm too conservative, which is my nature, but Barkley is one of the offense's most important assets, and while he will be a big part of what they do this year, let's hope that he's not asked to take on his pre-injury workload of 80% or more of the snaps right out of the gate.
Giants fans have been wishing for the team to run more play-action in the passing game. Having thought about it, I wonder if the limited play-action we've seen so far with Daniel Jones ties into his struggles with post-snap reads on what's unfolding before him?
Last year, Jones was in play-action 122 times, tied for 16th most with Tom Brady of the Bucs. The end production? Jones completed 59% of his play-action pass attempts for three touchdowns and two interceptions, while Brady completed 65 percent of his play-action pass attempts for 13 touchdowns and three interceptions.
This isn't to say Jones and Brady are in the same ballpark--they're not. But when one talks about the jump Jones needs to make in his overall game, this certainly would be another key area for him to find more success this year than he did the previous season.
Judge recently spoke about how the month of September is like an extension of the preseason.
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That caught my attention in that I found it interesting that the Giants coaches spent more time evaluating the depth on the roster, particularly some guys who didn't even make the initial 53-man unit.
While I get the intent behind that, I can't be alone in wishing that the Giants had given the starters a little more than a half's worth of preseason snaps to work out the bugs in any of the installs.
And don't tell me that it's because on offense, Jones didn't have Barkley, Kadarius Toney, Kyle Rudolph, or Kenny Golladay because of injury because what are the Giants going to do during the season if any of those guys have to miss time due to injury?
Right, they'd have to play the backups at the positions that will have to work with Jones, so why not kill two birds with one stone and see how the depth looked with some of the starters?
Throughout the off-season and early part of training camp, the Giants' battle cry regarding the offensive line was "let the kids play."
Well, they did just that, and it looks like there will be at least one spot where one of the youngsters (Matt Peart) didn't do enough to lock down the starting right tackle job.
That means that Nate Solder, who not only converted from left tackle to right tackle but who opted out last year due to COVID-19 concerns, will be taking most of the snaps at right tackle.
Peart? It sounds like the plan is to rotate him into the mix (a concept that while I agreed with last year, this year I disagree with because, at some point, you need to allow for the unit to jell and establish continuity).
That said, the Giants are likely going in that direction in the hopes that Peart grows into the role, as after this year, Solder probably won't be back. With the Giants likely to be facing a salary-cap crunch, the last thing they probably want to have to do is spend on another veteran offensive lineman.
When the Giants went on a massive free-agent spending spree this off-season, I had nightmarish recollections of the last time they did so in 2016 when they spent money like it was going out of style to fix glaring deficiencies on the roster caused by poor drafting.
We all know what happened back then. After posting an 11-5 record, their best won-loss mark of the last decade, and qualifying for the playoffs, the foundation fell apart the following year when then-head coach Ben McAdoo found himself drowning in quicksand brought about by adversity.
So when I say this, it might be premature, but based on what head coach Joe Jude has shown as a leader, I suspect that this Giants team is not about to suffer the same fate of sliding backward while its head coach sits by with no clue on how to stop any bleeding that should develop due to adversity.
"That's the mentality that we wanted to have as a team," receiver Sterling Shepard told me last week. "No matter, no matter through the ups and the downs that we're going to stay with each other, and we're going to keep grinding.
"We went through that rough patch of--I don't know how many games we lost in a row--last year. But towards the end of the season, you saw guys that nobody quit. And I've been a part of teams where you could see kind of guys kind of laying down a little bit. I didn't sense that at all, from, from the guys last season."
Judge and the core of this Giants team have proven that it can overcome adversity far better than the 2016 team of which Shepard was a part, by the way. But with that said, if the Giants don't show progress from last season, they're going to have one ugly cap mess on their hands next year when those contracts they handed out or re-worked start to balloon.
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