2019 Giants Season Preview in 20 Questions
After months of recasting, dress rehearsals, and script re-writes, the curtain is about to rise on the Giants 2019 regular season.
There is a feeling of optimism around the team’s East Rutherford, New Jersey headquarters that general manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Pat Shurmur finally have this franchise headed in the right direction.
As to whether that direction includes a winning season record for the first time since 2016 or a golden ticket to the postseason, that will all reveal itself over the next several weeks, but for now, let’s play a game of 20 questions as we look at some of the most pressing issues that can affect what the Giants end up doing in January 2020.
1. Where did the Giants make the most significant jump?
Based on a limited sample size seen in the preseason, the offensive line. On the left side, Nate Solder and Will Hernandez should be much better now that Hernandez has more of a clue as to what he’s doing out there.
On the right side, well how nice is it to have a couple of guys who have not only played their respective positions before (unlike last year when the Giants moved Patrick Omameh and Ereck Flowers from the left side to the right side and crossed their fingers that both would instantly adjust to recognizing and hitting new landmarks) but who have been successful at it?
2. What is the biggest concern?
The defense. The talent is there, but the unit is relatively young and underwent a massive turnover. While the group has practiced together during the spring and summer, there’s no substitution for game speed. And as we saw during the preseason, opponents were able to march down the field against this unit to score (though that did eventually get better).
Defenses often take a little longer to come together—remember the 2007 Super Bowl championship defense and how that unit gave up 80 points in its first two games before finally settling down and crushing opponents?
Don’t be shocked if the 2019 Giants defense has similar issues as it too looks to settle down after a summer in which it was missing its starting middle linebacker (Alec Ogletree) and its projected starting left cornerback (DeAndre Baker) for most of the preseason, not to mention the limited snaps played by rookie Dexter Lawrence (coaches decision).
And then there is the question about how all the youth the Giants added on defense fits in. So far, the returns have been positive, but even defensive coordinator James Bettcher can’t deny that some challenges come with working with so much inexperience.
“I think for me it’s about being mindful of the conversations we need to have in preparation,” he said.
“Then on game day, we are going to play, we are going to run the plan, and what we are going to call, we are going to call. Making sure in meetings we are covering what we need to cover, walkthroughs, and we are putting them in situations of things we are going to call on game day, and they are going to be the things we major in.”
3. Who is the one player on offense this team cannot be without this season?
Running back Saquon Barkley. Not that this needs an explanation, but in case it isn’t apparent, Barkley is going to have an even more significant role in this offense as both a runner and receiver if what we saw during training camp is any indication.
What we saw in training camp was Barkley being moved around in different formations, including split out wide where he would get matched up against a linebacker in coverage (which often was no contest).
4. Same question for the defense.
Inside linebacker Alec Ogletree (and yes, I’m serious). Ogletree is an every-down linebacker who showed some promise last year in coverage.
Beyond Ogletree, I don’t think the Giants have another solid every-down inside linebacker to replace him—rookie Ryan Connelly has shown some promise, but I’d like to see him get out of piles a little quicker than he has.
Tae Davis has coverage ability, but his downhill play is still a work in progress. And while I admittedly don’t know much about David Mayo, the former Panther the Giants picked up this week, I would think he’s still in catch-up mode in learning James Bettcher’s defensive scheme should he have to step in there on a moment’s notice this weekend.
5. Is locker room culture overrated?
Absolutely not. The reason for that is when adversity strikes—and sorry, folks, but it’s part of life—the stronger the support system in the locker room, the better chance you have of coming out of the adverse situation in better shape.
For further proof, look back to the last few seasons. Losing tends to breed finger-pointing, whether it’s direct or indirect, and when fingers start being pointed, that’s when locker rooms begin to splinter, and the foundation falls apart.
Giants general manager Dave Gettleman and Shurmur have not only made a conscious effort to staff the locker room with quality talent that fits together, they paid extra attention to the chemistry in the locker room, realizing that having too many divas who were unwilling to take their share of the blame when things went wrong was not a good thing.
6. Can they survive without Odell Beckham Jr.?
Absolutely. Beckham is a fantastic talent, but let’s be real. The Giants went 25-34 with him in the lineup (and 0-1 in the postseason). While that’s not all Beckham’s fault, he didn’t always contribute to the solution, having dropped 26 balls over his five-year Giants career including in the postseason.
And for those who made the argument that Eli Manning held Beckham back, then how is it that Sterling Shepard was able to achieve career highs in receptions and receiving yards catching passes thrown by the same quarterback?
By the way, Beckham, who in five seasons for the Giants missed games due to injury in four of them, apparently is dealing with a hip issue that he claims is keeping him from going full speed.
7. How long until they make the switch from Eli Manning to Daniel Jones?
If the Giants have their way, that won’t happen this year. Shurmur has indicated that so long as the team is winning and in the playoff hunt, Manning will be under center.
That won’t stop Manning’s critics from piling it on him the minute he has a bad day, throws an interception or makes a weird face for the cameras. But the reality is that Jones, although having made significant progress since the rookie minicamp in May, isn’t yet a finished product, something offensive coordinator Mike Shula tried to say in a round-about way when asked.
“I think Daniel’s done a great job. There’s only one judge for us, and that’s winning, but I think Daniel’s done a great job. From the other rookies that I’ve been around, and I’ve been around some really good rookies, he’s been as good as all of them,” he said.
“(Jones and Alex Tanney), now their roles change. They have to be ready at a moment’s notice without any reps. That’s a challenge for guys that are used to playing, especially for Daniel. Alex has been around, so he knows how it works. At that position, we have to go play productive football, as we know.”
But one thing is for sure: when Shurmur, whom John Mara and Gettleman have said will make that decision, does indeed pass the torch to Jones, the decision shouldn’t be made lightly or in a knee-jerk fashion as former head coach Ben McAdoo’s attempt to replace Manning with Geno Smith in 2017.
8. Who is the player to watch as far as having a breakout season?
Evan Engram and it isn’t close. Engram is entering his third NFL season and has shown himself to be a force with which to be reckoned when there is no Beckham in the lineup.
Last year, Engram caught 22 of 31 pass targets for 320 yards and a touchdown, seeing his average game targets increase. And considering Engram has the athleticism of a big tight end, his potential use in this offense is intriguing.
“He’s a matchup nightmare, and I’ve said that since day one since I’ve seen him,” receiver Sterling Shepard said. The man looks like a wide receiver, he runs like a wide receiver, with a tight end’s body.”
The Giants kept Engram under wraps for most of the preseason, perhaps to avoid showing their hand and also perhaps to ensure he’s going to be fully healthy and fresh by the time the season begins.
But don’t be surprised in Engram, who per Pro Football Focus lined up in the backfield six times, was inline 243 times, in the slot 169 times and split out wide 57 times, sees more looks as a slot receiver, and as a wideout in formations the Giants have yet to unveil.
9. What’s the one thing the Giants need to do every week other than win, of course?
Improve. It sounds elementary, but it’s essential. Simply put, this team can’t be making the same stupid mistakes that cost them ball games.
With that said, often the first week or two of the regular season tends to be sloppy because now you’re asking your starters and critical backups to play more snaps together at game speed.
Although the coaches try to simulate that game speed in practice, sometimes it’s not feasible to capture it precisely to where there is a little more sloppiness in the first couple of games. If the Giants continue to improve each week, that’s going to go a long way toward a successful season.
10. What’s the most overlooked aspect of this team no one is talking about but should be?
Special teams. During the preseason, the special teams weren’t as sharp as they were last year, but that’s likely due to their shuffling guys in and out of the lineup, many of whom are no longer on an NFL roster. Still, don’t underestimate the importance of special teams given its impact on starting field position.
“I think as we move forward, as the speed of the game progresses, especially with some of these young guys as they figure out what’s going on and how to attack blockers and all those different things,” special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey said Thursday. “Once we start to figure their game speed out, I think we’ll be fine.”
11. Biggest concern?
The depth at offensive tackle. Even before starting right tackle Mike Remmers landed on the opening week injury report the Giants were taking a significant risk on a guy who was a few months removed from off-season back surgery.
Well, guess what? Remmers is on the injury report, his affliction listed as “illness/back.” Thursday head coach Pat Shurmur said that it was more of an illness thing with Remmers, but still, a red flag shot up when the word “back” was included in the designation and another warning flag shot up when Shurmur said he didn’t yet know if Remmers’ practice reps would have to be managed the rest of the way.
I’ve said this before and will repeat it; players coming off back surgeries scare the heck out of me given how easy it is to pull a muscle that can lay one up for days, if not weeks. (Ask anyone who has ever sneezed and pulled a muscle.
I don’t know how many practice snaps Remmers took over the summer, but according to Pro Football Focus, he took 64 preseason snaps over four games, about the equivalent of a full game. Remmers showed up on the Giants Week 1 injury report, his injury with an illness/back
If Remmers can’t go Sunday—and while there is optimism that he’ll be good to go, it’s looking like that could end up being a game-day decision—Eric Smith, acquired off waivers from the Jets or Chad Slade would be the next man up.
12. The Giants record in the first month of the season will be?
The optimist in me says 3-1, as I think the Giants will lose against Dallas, which historically has been a tough place for them to play. However, I believe also wins against Buffalo, Tampa Bay, and Washington are within reach.
The realist in me says if they come out of the first quarter of the season with a 2-2 record, that’s also a good start for this franchise provided that the two wins come against one of Dallas or Washington and Tampa Bay.
13. What will Saquon Barkley do for an encore?
How about some more deep pass receptions? That’s right if the Giants go back to the plan to have Barkley split out wide in an attempt to isolate him against a linebacker, look out NFL!
Oh, and how does another 1,000-yard rushing season sound? Because if you look at last year and consider that Barkley picked up a lot of his rushing yards on his own, imagine what he’s going to do behind an upgraded run-blocking offensive line.
14. Where does Barkley need to improve?
This question was put to Shurmur this week, who naturally bean his answer citing “all areas.”
But then he got into some specifics as follows: “There were some runs early in the year where he bounced them where he could have stuck them up in there, and I think he learned that that’s how you need to run. He had a couple of drops last year, and there were a couple of times where he was a little loose in pass protection.”
More reps—and be sure that this young man is going to see a lot of reps this year—will help there.
15. Who will lead the team in sacks?
I suppose someone will technically end up leading the Giants defense in sacks, but I think going into the season, defensive coordinator James Bettcher sees the pass rush as more of a group effort much in the same way the Giants see all their receiving targets contributing to make up for Beckham’s production.
And if it is a group effort as Bettcher predicted, he thinks that will be a good thing.
“To me, I kind of like that, because there is a little bit of unknown for people that are prepping for us,” Bettcher said.
“There’s a lot of guys that have something to go play and prove and establish themselves. I think it’s going to be exciting for me as I watch it from my position to see how it unfolds.”
16. How much is not having receiver Golden Tate for the first four games going to hurt?
I gave you my take in this article, but here is what Shula said when the question was put to him Thursday.
“It’s like anything else. When you have guys that are in, and all of a sudden can’t play, then it’s the next guy up. I think our guys in the preseason have done an excellent job. We’re probably going to be, in the passing game, by committee.
“We want to be that anyways. We don’t want to have teams feel like they’re going to dial in on one player or the other. A lot like towards the end of last year, we’ve had some guys that have stepped up and made some plays in critical situations against one-on-one, and hopefully, they’ll pick up where they left off.”
17. What rookie is going to make the most significant impact this year?
I’m going to go with defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence. I cannot help but come away impressed with how he carries himself and conducts his business, and I think he gets it. I also think one of the reasons why Gettleman chose him was because of his versatility, which, as Bettcher pointed out, is going to help not just Lawrence but all those guys up front.
“I think the flexibility of the guys that we have allows you to do some different things. I think, more importantly, it’s what offenses do,” he said. “They are not always going to allow you to keep your middle guy specifically in the middle.
“Those guys have to have some flexibility to play over the center or over the 3-technique or vice versa in different packages or different situations. I think all of those guys have things that they will create issues for from an offensive perspective, whether its length, power, or quickness. Having a chance to rush on different people, having a chance to play the run game on different people is something they also have to prepare for as well.”
18. Will Pat Shurmur and Dave Gettleman be on the hot seat if the Giants don’t win this season?
Probably not, unless Shurmur loses control of the locker room. It’s only the second year of their program, and with a new quarterback under development, I can’t see the Giants tossing out this coaching regime at this stage, unless, again, if the locker room implodes.
And I can’t see Gettleman being showed the door either, not if you consider all the chances Jerry Reese got to fix things.
19. So the Giants 2019 regular-season record will be what?
I hate this question—and yes, I’m aware that I wrote it just as I did the other questions in this article. But what I will say, as I did in this article, if I were a betting woman, I’d take the over on the number of wins the Giants will have this season (which per FanDuel, is six games).
I think with a few breaks going their way, the Giants will be in the thick of a Wild Card spot entering December. But, when I remember where this team was two seasons ago and how it took years of erosion for it to get back to respectability, I have to temper my expectations somewhat.
With all that said, I still think this team is at least a year away from really making noise in the playoff hunt.
20. Come on, Pat, stop being a chicken and give us a prediction.
I think if the Giants finish 9-7, regardless if they qualify for a postseason berth, that will be a tremendous step in the right direction.