New York Giants safety Logan Ryan summed up the mood of the 2021 team ahead of the regular season perfectly.
"Players got to take ownership," he said in response to a question regarding the team's well-publicized training camp skirmish.
"Players are tired of losing games around here. The fan base is tired. Us players are tired. Management gave us an opportunity. They gave us a better roster this year. They allocated the funds to it and we’re coming out competing."
Indeed, while no one higher than Ryan's pay grade is willing to admit it, it is playoffs or bust for a Giants team that is at a bit of a crossroads after showing some promising signs in last year's 6-10 season.
The Giants believe they have added enough pieces on offense and defense to push the team back to respectability. Team president John Mara hasn't exactly issued a "playoffs or bust" edict, but in speaking with the media earlier this year, he made it clear that he expects to see more wins in head coach Joe Judge's second season.
The good news is that regardless of the kind of season they have, the Giants, thanks to their trade with the Chicago Bears, are set up to have potentially two high draft picks to address whatever their most glaring need might be after this season.
All eyes will be on quarterback Daniel Jones to take that leap from game manager to game-winner. The front office committed to getting Jones playmakers this offseason, and they did so in adding receiver Kenny Golladay via free agency from the Lions, and tight end Kyle Rudolph, formerly with the Vikings, to go with a skill position group that includes receivers Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton, tight end Evan Engram and the return of running back Saquon Barkley from a torn ACL.
New pieces aside, Jones's most significant areas where he needs to show improvement include expediting his decision-making and cutting down on turnovers. Last season, Jones averaged 2.71 seconds to attempt, tied with Aaron Rodgers of the Packers for 16th among quarterbacks who took at least 50% of their team's snaps.
Rodgers, however, threw 48 touchdowns and five interceptions in 2020, while Jones threw only 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Meanwhile, Jones has recorded 29 fumbles in 27 games.
Jones did manage to reduce his totals from 18 in 2019 to 11 in 2020, but the Giants would no doubt like to see Jones reduce--or better yet eliminate -- that total in the year ahead.
But all of that might not matter if the Giants offensive line, really the only unit that the front office didn't add starting talent to in the offseason, doesn't step up and play a lot more consistently than it did last year. According to Pro Football Focus, the offensive line recorded a pass-blocking efficiency of 81.3%, 31st in the league, and allowed 195 total pressures, fourth-most in the NFL.
The Giants' defense was one of the most pleasant surprises of the team last year. But don't count on defensive coordinator Patrick Graham to rest on his laurels after guiding the unit to 12th overall in the league.
One area that was a top priority was the defensive secondary.
The secondary depth additions--cornerback Adoree' Jackson in free agency and Aaron Robinson in the draft--should help Graham and the defense deploy more man coverage against some of the track-star-like receivers the Giants will face this fall.
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The Giants defensive secondary allowed 2,379 yards passing yards per game, 12th in the league--but at the same time, the pass defense didn't quite take shape as Graham had hoped it would, mainly due to him not having the personnel to play more man coverage.
"I know we didn't play a ton of man last year, but we picked spots to play man," Graham said in the spring. "You need to play man-to-man coverage in this league, period, point-blank, and six wins last year--we didn't do enough on defense.
"We are looking at all options, whether it's the blitz more, blitz less, play less zone, play more man--we need a whole lot of options. Six wins is not going to cut it."
The Giants also added firepower to its pass rush, the marquee player being second-round draft pick Azeez Ojulari out of Georgia.
The Giants pass rush wasn't a total disaster considering the number of injuries at the edge rusher spot, including early season-ending injuries to youngsters Lorenzo Carter (Achilles) and Oshane Ximines (shoulder).
New York still finished tied for 10th in the league in sacks (40) with the Colts, but they also didn't have a single pass rusher with a pass-rushing efficiency better than 7.6, that mark belonging to outside linebacker Trent Harris, who achieved that mark in just 33 pass-rushing snaps.
By contrast, Ojulari, in his final season at Georgia, generated an impressive 17.5% pass-rush productivity rate, the second-best mark on the Bulldogs.
"We’ve got some more players, guys to work with and they have different skillsets," Graham said of the pass rush talent added. "I’m looking forward to that and we’ll see how it plays out," he said.
2021 Season Record Prediction
9-8. Team ownership is expecting a lot more wins than the six the club managed to record last season. While a lot has to happen--the offensive line being as good as the team thinks it can be, Daniel Jones taking a big step forward in his development, and the defense advancing from a top-12 unit to a top 10 or even top 5-- there's enough optimism to think that in a still-shaky NFC East, the Giants can finally record their first winning record since they went 11-5 in 2016.
Expected Depth Chart
- Quarterbacks: Daniel Jones, Mike Glennon
- Running Backs: Saquon Barkley, Devontae Booker, Gary Brightwell
- Fullback: Eli Penny, Cullen Gillaspia
- Receivers: Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, Kadarius Toney, C.J. Board, Collin Johnson
- Tight Ends: Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph, Kaden Smith
- Left Tackle: Andrew Thomas, Nate Solder
- Left Guard: Shane Lemieux, Ben Bredeson
- Center: Nick Gates, Billy Price
- Right Guard: Will Hernandez, Ben Bredeson
- Right Tackle: Matt Peart, Nate Solder
- Strongside LB: Lorenzo Carter,
- Defensive End: Dexter Lawrence II
- Nose Tackle: Austin Johnson, Danny Shelton
- Defensive Tackle: Leonard Williams, Raymond Johnson III
- Outside Linebacker: Azeez Ojulari, Oshane Ximines
- Left Cornerback: James Bradberry, Rodarius Williams
- Strong Safety: Jabrill Peppers, Julian Love
- Free Safety: Logan Ryan, Xavier McKinney
- Right Cornerback: Adoree' Jackson, Darnay Holmes, Rodarius Williams
- Kicker: Graham Gano
- Long Snapper: Casey Kreiter
- Punter: Riley Dixon