On the Fourth of July a year ago I did a “there will be fireworks for the New York Giants if ...” post for the first time. Thinking back on it I liked the idea, so let’s try it again. There were be fireworks for the 2019 Giants if the following things happen.
The offense can build on last season’s final four games
The Giants have banked quite a bit of their hopes for 2019 on the last half of 2018. They went 4-4 after their 1-7 start, and much of the reason was improvement on offense. They averaged 18.75 points per game in those first eight games, 27.4 per game in the last eight. They averaged 353.3 yards per game in the first eight and 358.9 yards the last eight. Five of Saquon Barkley’s six best rushing games of the season came in those final eight games.
More specifically — and probably more importantly — the Giants are counting on what they saw from the offense in the final four games without Odell Beckham Jr. not being a mirage.
There was a poor effort in a shutout loss to the Tennessee Titans, but there were games of 40 points vs. the Washington Redskins and 35 (with a season-high 441 yards) in the season finale against the Dallas Cowboys.
The Giants have changed the right side of their offensive line with Kevin Zeitler and Mike Remmers since that time, and have Jon Halapio returning at center. They have also added veteran Golden Tate and speedy rookie Darius Slayton to their receiving mix.
A scoring pace of 27.4 points per game would have had the Giants No. 5 in the league in scoring offense if they could have maintained it for the full season. The four teams that did better than that for the full season were the Kansas City Chiefs (34.8), Los Angeles Rams (30.8), New Orleans Saints (30.4) and New England Patriots 27.7), arguably the best four teams in the league.
The Giants can capitalize on their schedule
I have said before and will say again that I am not one who believes in the idea of figuring out weeks or months ahead of time how a team might do based on how its upcoming opponents did last year. Just because a team was good or bad, or finished with a certain record, doesn’t mean that same result will hold true in the upcoming season.
The whole strength of schedule based on last season’s results argument is flawed. Coaching and front office changes, free agency, the draft, injuries and player development all change a team from year to year.
Still, it’s hard to ignore that based on those traditional SOS rankings only the Washington Redskins enter the season with, on paper, a more favorable schedule based on 2018 results.
I know that Chris Pflum looked at the schedule and saw only four wins. I don’t know if the Giants will win three games, four games of 11 games, but when you look at their schedule right now it certainly appears there are more than four winnable games on it.
The secondary holds up
After a season in which the Giants were 27th in the NFL in both yards per completion allowed (11.2, per Team Rankings) and overall pass defense grade (68.8, per Pro Football Focus) and 23rd in passing yards allowed per game (252.8) the Giants completely remade their secondary.
Safeties Landon Collins and Curtis Riley are gone. In their place are the hopefully coming into his own Jabrill Peppers and the venerable Antoine Bethea.
At cornerback, B. W. Webb is out. Eli Apple was traded during the season and Donte Deayon was let go.
In their place, aside from veteran Janoris Jenkins and second-year man Grant Haley, are a collection of newbies. Sam Beal (2018 supplemental draft), 2019 draftees DeAndre Baker, Julian Love and Corey Ballentine, AAF signee Henre’ Toliver and former Giant and Arizona Cardinals practice squad player Ronald Zamort have never played an NFL snap.
Can these players hold up individually against quality NFL wide receivers? As a collective group, can all of these new and largely inexperienced players communicate well enough to function as a cohesive secondary?
If the answers are yes, the Giants have a chance to be a good defense. If the answers are no, The Giants are going to have a hard time stopping opposing offenses.
They generate a real pass rush
The other major question about the Giants’ defense is whether or not it will be able to generate a pass rush. They were second-last in the NFL in sacks and sack percentage a year ago, and while we also know they were better than that at creating pressure the pass rush still did not make enough of an impact.
Then, of course, the Giants traded their most accomplished pass rusher, Olivier Vernon, to the Cleveland Browns.
They neither signed a premium free agent edge rusher nor used one of their trio of first-round draft picks on one.
So, how are the Giants going to impact opposing quarterbacks? Can they impact opposing quarterbacks?
Can Markus Golden, off two years impacted by a knee injury, give the Giants a season akin to the 12.5-sack 2016 year he had pre-injury? Can Lorenzo Carter take a step forward? Can third-round pick Oshane Ximines contribute? Can the Giants, especially Dexter Lawrence and B.J. Hill, push the pocket from inside? Can James Bettcher scheme some pressure?
Right now, we don’t know. The only thing we do know, or at least think we know, is that the Giants’ young secondary is going to need some help.
The return game is improved
And it should be.
A season ago, the Giants churned through kickoff and punt returners. Guys like Kaelin Clay and Stacy Coley came and went. Jawill Davis and Quadree Henderson got opportunities and are now no longer Giants. Cody Latimer did a little returning. In desperation, the Giants even turned to Odell Beckham Jr., for a while — and that was pretty much disastrous.
The arrival of Corey Coleman settled down the kickoff return game as he averaged 26.0 yards per return. Coleman could also see more work in 2019 returning punts, an area where he did a lot of work at the end of last season and in the spring.
The Giants now also have several other quality return options.
Jabrill Peppers is expected to handle most of the punt return duties, and he averaged 7.3 yards on 55 punt returns in Cleveland. Peppers also returned 33 kickoffs in Cleveland, averaging 22.0 yards.
Latimer has a 24.4 yards per return average on 23 kickoff returns over five seasons.
Golden Tate has averaged 10.2 yards on 97 career punt returns. At 30, he has done less of that the past couple of seasons, but the Giants have said we could see Tate in situations where the Giants simply want the ball caught near their own goal line.
The Giants are also excited about the potential of speedy fifth-round pick Darius Slayton as a return man. That is something he really didn’t do at Auburn, but that he worked at extensively in the spring.
With all of those options, the Giants should be improved in the return game in 2019.
Daniel Jones starts games
If the team’s sixth overall pick is in the lineup at all this season, either because of injury to Eli Manning or organizational decision that it’s time for him to play and the 16-year veteran Manning to sit, that will create a whole different type of fireworks.
Media madness. A fan base frenzy. The changing of the guard at quarterback is coming, we just don’t know when. If it comes during the 2019 season, for whatever reason, that certainly promises to be explosive.
Finally, please be safe out there today. Be smart out on the water — wherever you are there is likely to be a lot of activity. Take precautions if you are shooting off your own fireworks. They’re beautiful, and they’re fun, but they are also incredibly dangerous. Have a great holiday!