Odell Beckham Jr.

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Giants Season Preview: Team Trending Upward, But Questions Remain

August 09, 2018 - 11:42 am
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By Jamie Weintraub
WFAN.com

The Giants kick off their preseason Thursday night, hosting the Cleveland Browns at MetLife Stadium.

Big Blue is trying to prove that last season’s 3-13 record was a fluke and that the team can contend once again.  

The Giants have made several key acquisitions, including hiring a new general manager, Dave Gettleman, and a new head coach, Pat Shurmur. With heralded rookie running back Saquon Barkley and former Patriots offensive tackle Nate Solder, among others, joining the squad, the Giants are expected to trend upward in 2018.

OFFENSE

Over the past two seasons, the Giants' offense has lived and died by the play of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. When the Giants went 11-5 in 2017, the winning formula was a stingy defense and Beckham breaking off long touchdowns. The offense was stagnant for most of 2018 in Beckham's absence from injury. 

In the offseason, the Giants took significant measures to try to ensure a more complete offensive threat.

MORE: Keidel: Manning Can Cement Case For Canton With Another Strong Season

Barkley, the second overall pick in this year’s draft, was arguably the most explosive player in college football a year ago. The former Penn State star is widely expected to be an immediate force for the Giants, who will also have second-year pro Wayne Gallman and veteran Jonathan Stewart to aid in the rushing attack. This Giants' backfield could rejuvenate a running game that has been dormant for years.

Beckham is coming back from ankle surgery and remains the focal point of the Giants' offense. The three-time Pro Bowler's ability to regain his old form should have large implications on the Giants' success offensively, though he is not the only threat in the air. Sterling Shepard is slotted as the second receiver after an impressive 2017 campaign. And tight end Evan Engram presents a tremendous mismatch when lined up as a receiver, but especially when matched up against linebackers.

Ultimately, the success of the offense will fall upon Eli Manning. The 37-year-old quarterback is coming off a year in which he was benched for the first time in his career. The Giants made major upgrades on the offensive line, with Solder and second-round rookie Will Hernandez joining the team. Throw in the Giants' stellar crop of skill players, and the pieces are around Manning to potentially boost him to a comeback season.

DEFENSE

In 2017, the Giants' defense was in turmoil. Just one year removed from being a top-10 unit, Big Blue’s defense consistently got bullied, allowing the second most yards in the NFL. There was significant infighting among the players, including Landon Collins publicly calling Eli Apple “a cancer," and cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins were both suspended by the team.

 Giants strong safety Landon Collins (21) recovers a fumble against the Raiders on Dec. 4, 2018, at Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California.
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Simply put, the defense was a mess both on and off the field.

Much of last season’s dysfunctional defense has returned, though there is optimism that the group can start fresh in 2018.

New defensive coordinator James Bettcher is swapping the old 4-3 defense for a new, aggressive 3-4 set. With a fresh scheme comes some fresh talent, as the Giants made a few moves to boost the defense in the offseason. Jason Pierre-Paul, who wasn't a good fit in the new scheme, was traded to Tampa Bay. The Giants also brought in defensive end Kareem Martin from Arizona and traded for ex-Ram Alec Ogletree to sure up the linebacker position.

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The defense should be accustomed to blitzing often, with the versatile Olivier Vernon leading the way in the pass rush. The hope is that a new coaching staff, paired with some new players, will translate into a revitalized defense.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Giants' special teams, like the offense and defense, struggled mightily a season ago.

Aldrick Rosas is back as the kicker, though he is expected to be on a tight leash after an uninspiring performance in 2018 (18-of-25 on field goals, three missed extra points). Marshall Koehn, who kicked in one game for the Bengals last season, has been brought in to challenge Rosas.

Giants kicker Aldrick Rosas (2) kicks a field goal against the Redskins on Nov. 23, 2017, at FedEx Field in Washington, D.C.
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The Giants have done away with punter Brad Wing, in favor of former Bronco Riley Dixon. Dixon should present an improvement, as he possesses a stronger leg than Wing and a higher consistency of placing the ball inside the 20-yard line.

The punt and kick returner positions remain in question. Look for Kalif Raymond and Hunter Sharp to be in the mix, and possibly Barkley and Shepard, too, although the Giants might be reluctant to use those key offensive players heavily in the return game.

REVIEW

On all sides of the ball, the Giants are riddled with uncertainties.

Does Manning have another strong season left in him? Can Beckham return to being his old explosive self? Is Barkley everything he’s been made out to be? Can the defense put the turmoil of last season behind it?

There is no question the Giants have talent all over the field. But the question remains: Which version of Big Blue will show up -- the 3-13 Giants of 2017, the 11-5 Giants of 2016 or something in between?

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