Three keys to victory for the Giants against the defending AFC South champion Jaguars:
1. Stop. The. Run. The Jaguars want to do it. The entire NFL knows they want to do it. Game on. Under Jaguars coach Doug Marrone, a former offensive lineman, Jacksonville last season ranked first in rush percentage (48.9 percent of plays), rushing yards per game (141.4), rushing attempts per game (32.9), 50-yard rushes (five), rushes on second down (179) and rushes up the middle (228). Get the point? The Jaguars will max protect and then take their shot downfield just when defenses are getting sucked in to stop the run. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher also said they have "to be aware of when the screens are coming."
Stopping the run is not just a coaching cliché, especially when that team is facing Jacksonville. Leonard Fournette, the fourth overall pick in last year's draft who ran for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns in 13 games, returns for his second season with the addition of All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell. They won't be tackling each other, but a subplot to this game is Fournette vs. rookie Saquon Barkley, this year's second overall pick by the Giants. They also can't sleep on quarterback Blake Bortles, who averages 6.3 yards when he tucks it and runs. In his only previous game against the Giants, Bortles ran for 68 yards and four first downs in the victory in 2014.
"Our guys are really excited to get started," Bettcher said. "You can see it when we came in the building on Monday and then when we had practice [Thursday], guys are really locked in, clued in, and excited to go play football. We've got a great opponent this week, a team that can run the football, as we all know."
2. Key to Jacksonville D starts up front. There will be no easing into the season for the Giants' rebuilt offensive line. The unit has new starters at all five positions and opens against the second-ranked defense from a year ago as Minnesota edged out Jacksonville in both points and yards allowed. The Jaguars return a franchise-record six Pro Bowlers this season, and they all play on defense. Calais Campbell led the AFC in sacks last year, while cornerback Jalen Ramsey led the NFL's No. 1 pass defense and has no qualms about telling it to people. The unit also boasts cornerback A.J. Bouye and a front seven that includes Malik Jackson, Yannick Ngakoue and Telvin Smith.
Protecting the ball is also at a premium. Jacksonville set a franchise record with 33 takeaways, and its 55 sacks were second-most in team history. Tom Coughlin's 1999 team still holds the record with 57.
"They're so talented," Giants offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. "Their scheme, they are well-coached. It starts with the guys up front. They can be very disruptive up front in both the run game and the pass game. They've had a bunch of sacks last year just with rushing four people, and then everything else fits off that. They're very talented in the back seven as well -- guys that can cover man to man, they're fast when they're in zone, they get to the ball very fast, and there's a lot of guys that can get to the ball quickly. They're really good. There's a reason why they went as far as they did last year."
3. Don't force the ball. The Giants have a full – and healthy – arsenal of weapons at Eli Manning's disposal. They need to use them all. That is always easier said than done, especially when you have a three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver like Odell Beckham Jr., who doesn't even think he has "done anything really" yet in the league. But the Giants have gotten into trouble in relying on one player or package. Coach Pat Shurmur wants to be multiple while allowing his players to play fast by keeping things simple.
"I don't know if you take teams by surprise," Shurmur said when asked about entering the season as a new staff. "I think it's fair to say we'll do some things that the team hasn't seen during preseason, that's number one; but we all have backgrounds, we all have years that we've coached, and some of the words that we've used during training camp, something that meant run might mean pass. So, there's some tactics involved when you start the season but, for the most part, we are who we are and we want to be a tough, gritty team that runs the football and makes the effort to score points, especially the points you need to win the game and then play good, gritty defense. That's what we're looking to do."
View the starters for Sunday's matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars