2022 SEASON GETS UNDERWAY
After a long offseason and summer of waiting, the Giants are finally set to kick off the 2022 season when they travel to Nashville to take on the Titans in Week 1. After going 2-1 in the preseason under Brian Daboll and the new coaching staff, the Giants will take the field at Nissan Stadium for their first real test of the season. The Titans, led by head coach Mike Vrabel, lost to the Baltimore Ravens in their preseason opener before defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals.
After 25 years serving as a football coach, Sunday's game will mark the first of Daboll's head coaching career. While excited and grateful for the opportunity, Daboll reiterated to the media this week that the focus is on the Titans and nothing else.
"I'm just trying to do the best I can to help the players out in terms of their preparation, practice schedule, and really not focus on that," he said about his feelings towards his first game as head coach. "I'd be lying to say that I'm not honored, again, to be standing up here. But my focus is on the game and the players. There will be a time and place for that. I want to do everything I can to get ready for this game."
The Giants and Titans have split 12 games since their inaugural matchup in 1973, when the Titans were known as the Houston Oilers. The TItans won the last meeting in 2018, but the Giants got the win the last time they traveled to Nashville, 36-7.
Questionable: S Dane Belton (Clavicle)
Doubtful: OLB Azeez Ojulari (Calf), OLB Kayvon Thibodeaux (Knee)
Questionable: OLB Ola Adeniyi (Neck)
Out: DB Lonnie Johnson (Groin), DB Elijah Molden (Groin), LB Chance Campbell (Knee), OL Jamarco Jones (Triceps)
WHO STARTS AT LG, ILB?
With Shane Lemieux on injured reserve for at least the first four games, the starting left guard position is up for grabs. On the first unofficial depth chart of the regular season, Ben Bredeson manned the spot with rookie Joshua Ezeudu behind him. Bredeson was the team's highest graded linemen in the preseason with his 88.8 overall grade from PFF, including an elite 91.5 grade on 23 run block snaps, against the Patriots
"We'll let it go here again today," Daboll said before Friday's practice. "I think both those guys, Bredeson and Ezeudu, have done a good job all week. So, we'll practice today. We'll reconvene tomorrow morning with the coaching staff and watch practice today and then decide which way to go with it."
In addition to left guard, Coach Daboll has not yet announced who will start at inside linebacker next to Tae Crowder. Veteran Austin Calitro is listed as the starter on the unofficial depth chart, but rookie Micah McFadden is battling for the spot.
Calitro earned a team-high 90.4 overall grade in the preseason, which included elite 91.2 pass rush and 81.5 coverage grades. He picked up five total pressures on just 19 pass rush snaps. Meanwhile, McFadden earned an 81.9 overall grade across the three games, and graded out well in all areas. His final marks on the preseason included 77.4 run defense, 78.3 pass rush, 82.8 tackling and 67.0 coverage grades. His 13 total tackles was among the team's preseason leaders.
KAFKA CONTINUES AS PLAY-CALLER
Although it was only a limited sample size, the offense put up a good performance during the preseason, when offensive coordinator Mike Kafka called the plays. The Giants finished the three-game slate ranked first in the NFL in total yards (382.7) and passing yards (279.0) per game. They also finished at the top of the NFC in passing attempts (143), completion percentage (71.3 percent) and fewest sacks allowed (three).
Coach Daboll announced at the start of the week that Kafka would continue to call plays for the offense this weekend in Nashville.
"It's a special opportunity," Kafka said about calling plays. "I definitely don't take that for granted. Any opportunity you can to call plays in the National Football League is an honor. I'm working to put my best foot forward and give our guys the best opportunity to be successful."
Kafka added he's open to input from Daboll and the rest of the coaching staff.
"I think it's going to be collaborative," said the offensive coordinator. "When you are in the flow of a game, I think everyone has input and ideas. I welcome that, I love that. The best part of building that staff was all the ideas and everyone's vision of the game. Obviously, I've got to have a clear picture of what I'm feeling and what I'm seeing out there but I'm always going to rely on the eyes of my staff and the coaches out there."
DJ, SAQUON'S DEBUT IN NEW OFFENSE
Two of the most important pieces to the offense's success this year are quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley. After they missed some time during the 2021 campaign, both players enter the season healthy.
"I think it's a versatile system.," Jones said Tuesday about the new offense. "I think it allows the quarterback to do a lot in the pocket, outside the pocket, in the run game. It allows us to get into advantageous looks depending on what the defense does, easily getting in and out of plays. I think from all those perspectives, it's very quarterback friendly for any quarterback. I've certainly enjoyed working with (Coach Daboll)."
"Good, he's looked really good since the spring," GM Joe Schoen said about Barkley last week. "He's quick, he's fast, good hands, I mean he's been impressive, and leadership wise he's been really good too, so I've been really impressed with Saquon."
View photos from practice as the Giants prepare for the season opener against the Titans.
It was clear upon Joe Schoen's arrival that bolstering the offensive line was one of his top priorities. The Giants signed several veteran linemen in free agency before they added a few more in the draft. Of the nine offensive linemen currently on the 53-man roster, just Andrew Thomas, Ben Bredeson and Devery Hamilton are returning from last year's squad, with Thomas as the only incumbent starter.
Thomas played 800 total offensive snaps in 2021 and allowed just two sacks on 517 pass block snaps. He earned an 82.1 pass block grade from PFF, which ranked 12th among all offensive tackles, while his 78.9 overall grade ranked 19th. His success carried over to the 2022 preseason, when Thomas earned an 80.8 pass block grade after he did not allow any pressure on 21 snaps. Overall, Thomas received an 85.7 overall grade and 88.9 run block grade from PFF, both of which are elite marks, for his performance in two preseason games.
The Giants got strong performances from their other starters in the preseason as well. Jon Feliciano (82.2) and Mark Glowinski (82.1) received strong pass block grades. Feliciano (22 pass block snaps) did not surrender any pressures, while Glowinski surrendered just one hurry on 37 pass block snaps. Meanwhile, Evan Neal received a 95.8 pass blocking efficiency on his 37 snaps in pass protection.
CONFIDENCE IN OLB ROOM
It remains to be seen if Kayvon Thibodeaux and/or Azeez Ojulari can suit up for Sunday's matchup as both are listed as doubtful on the final injury report. Regardless of the status of the two young edge rushers, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is confident in the entire group of outside linebackers.
"I can't say it enough about how much I love the room – the players in that room that we have because all they've done is come here and work, and they're good people," Martindale said this week. "And they're good teammates. And they're selfless. As far as the other two guys, I know they're working as hard as they can to get back."
If the two starters are unable to go, Jihad Ward, Oshane Ximines and Tomon Fox would likely see extended action against Tennessee. In 2020, Ward registered three sacks in 10 games the last time he played in Martindale's defense. Ximines and Fox are new to the system, but both flashed in the preseason with multiple pressures.
SLOWING DOWN HENRY
It's pretty clear the Titans' offense revolves around Derrick Henry, who perhaps has been the best running back in the NFL over the last few seasons. In 2019, he rushed for 1,540 yards and 16 touchdowns, with an average of 5.1 yards per carry, in 2019. The following year, he put up a jaw-dropping 2,027 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground, with averages of 5.4 yards per carry and 126.7 yards per game, on his way to being named Offensive Player of the Year.
A foot injury derailed Henry's 2021 campaign, but not before he picked up 937 yards and 10 touchdowns in just eight games. Coach Brian Daboll knows that slowing down the talented, bruising running back will be one of the biggest priorities for the defense.
"It's well documented what he's done so far. He's just a really good football player," Daboll said. "I know him as a person, too. I met him down a few times in Alabama. Got a ton of respect for him as a man and certainly as a player. He's one heck of a player. You name it, he can do it…
"He's a physical guy; and it could be one cut and go. And it can be whatever he wants it to be at certain times," Martindale added. "And he's just a very talented back. I always get caught in comparing people and everything else, but he's like our modern-day (Former Cleveland Browns Fullback) Jim Brown, I think. He's just that much different when he has the ball in his hands, so it's a challenge every time he touches it.
KEEP AN EYE ON SIMMONS, BYARD
The Titans have a couple of outstanding defenders coming off All-Pro seasons, one up front and one in the secondary. DL Jeffery Simmons registered 8.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, 16 quarterback hits and 62 total pressures in this third season last year on his way to being named second-team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler.
Then there is S Kevin Byard, who was selected to his second career Pro Bowl last season and was named first team All-Pro for the second time. He recorded five interceptions, 13 passes defensed, two forced fumbles, two defensive touchdowns and 88 total tackles (57 solo) and didn't miss a game. His 90.4 overall grade and 90.9 coverage grade from PFF were the highest grades among all safeties, while his 83.8 run defense grade was also among the top marks at the position.
View rare photos of the all-time history between the New York Giants and Tennessee Titans.