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Cover 3: Keys to 2019 season

With the NFL season under 100 days away, we asked the Giants.com crew to fill in the blank. The 2019 Giants will be successful if _____ .

John Schmeelk: The Giants will be successful this season if the pass defense is good. This was an easy one for me. The team’s improved offensive line, the addition of Golden Tate and returning starters Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram and Saquon Barkley will make the offense more than productive enough to score at least 24 points per game and win football games.

Defensively, I have confidence that the combination of B.J. Hill, Dalvin Tomlinson and Dexter Lawrence will be good enough to slow down the run if they get the help they need from the linebacker group. But, can the Giants stop the pass? They will be trotting out an unproven group of young cornerbacks and pass rushers. Only cornerback Janoris Jenkins and edge rushers Markus Golden and Kareem Martin have past history as very productive players at this level. The Giants are counting on second-year edge rusher Lorenzo Carter and rookie Oshane Ximines to provide pressure from the outside. Meanwhile, at cornerback, Sam Beal, DeAndre Baker, Julian Love and Corey Ballentine, who have zero snaps at cornerback in the NFL, could be relied upon in prominent roles. Second-year slot cornerback Grant Haley is a veteran in the group.

In many ways, I think the season will come down to whether or not that group of young players at edge rusher and cornerback play well enough to slow down opposing passing attacks. If they do, this team has a chance to break through and make a playoff run.

Dan Salomone: The Giants will be successful if the offensive line is the best unit on the team. I’ve used this line before, I’m using it here now, and I’ll probably use it again: “In the years when the Giants were really good, you could point to the offensive line being really good. Oh, by the way, you have a quarterback named Eli Manning. So I don’t know why that’s any different. … I believe you have a chance to win it all when you can say the strength of your team is the offensive line.” That’s a quote from Pat Shurmur, a former All-Big Ten center, at the combine this past February. Keep in mind he coached against the Giants for years in Philadelphia. So he' seen many iterations of the group in one way or another, including the second half of last season when the offensive line was humming. It’s no shocker that the Giants played their best football in that stretch as Saquon Barkley and the five offensive linemen all made each other better.

While encouraged, the Giants were not content. They bolstered the right side of the line this offseason by bringing in established veterans Kevin Zeitler and Mike Remmers. That’s why things are trending in the direction of the unit being the best it has been in years. The group doesn’t just look good on paper. With well over 300 starts combined, it looks good on film. Dave Gettleman has poured in the resources to treat his No. 1 priority, acquiring talent via the draft, free agency and trade market. They have a healthy mix of veterans and up-and-comers, which can really be said for much of the roster. But the Giants go as their offensive line goes.

Lance Medow: The Giants know what must improve in order to be a more consistent team in 2019 just by reviewing last season. On defense, they collected just 30 sacks in 16 games and finished tied for 30th in the league. This season, they must find a way to manufacture more pressure and, most importantly, get home -- especially with a relatively young secondary. The Giants’ other issue on defense was getting off the field on third down. Opposing teams converted third downs just over 42 percent of the time, putting the Giants 26th in the league in third-down defense. If James Bettcher’s unit makes strides in both of those categories, the overall defensive efficiency will increase. It should also help the team close out games, something that troubled the Giants throughout 2018.

On offense, as with every season and every team, the line will determine the true ceiling of this facet of the team and it starts with having a consistent rushing attack. Yes, Saquon Barkley had an impressive rookie campaign and was a human highlight film but, as a team, the Giants finished just 24th in the NFL in rushing yards per game. As a means of comparison, both of this year’s Super Bowl participants finished in the top five in the league in that category (Rams were third, Patriots were fifth). Pass protection will be key as well given Eli Manning was sacked 47 times in 2018, tied for 10th-most in the NFL. 

Similar to the defense, the offense finished tied for 21st in the league in third-down efficiency (37 percent). It’s no coincidence that a strong rushing attack is usually synonymous with manageable third downs, allowing your offense to stay on the field, which helps rest your defense. These factors clearly go hand in hand and if the Giants can showcase better execution in that category on both sides of the ball, it will put them in a much better position to be successful and win close games in 2019.

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