Our "Cover 3" question of the week is: After one of the biggest offseasons in Giants history, what is one storyline or player not getting enough attention?
This is really hard for me to judge since we do an hour-long call-in show every day. I feel like we have covered every topic ad nauseam. We've certainly talked a ton about Saquon Barkley. Improving the offensive line with Nate Solder, Patrick Omameh and Will Hernandez has been a huge topic. We have talked a ton about the new defensive scheme and Alec Ogletree. Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. have certainly been big topics, too. So what's left?
I'm going to turn my attention to two players that are being overshadowed by Barkley and Beckham: Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram. Shepard's potential breakout sophomore campaign was derailed by nagging ankle injuries and the offensive issues that plagued the Giants last year. Engram is entering his own second season with a chance to make a jump after a rookie year when Engram admitted he had too many dropped passes. Opposing teams are going to focus a lot of their attention on Beckham and Barkley, so it will be up to Shepard and Engram to take advantage of single coverage to make plays in the biggest of situations. Their production and consistency will be just as important as Barkley and Beckham. If they show they can consistently win against single coverage, the Giants will not only score a lot of points, but they might also make opponents re-think their strategy of doubling Beckham or stacking the box against Barkley. They can create bigger opportunities for the two stars if they play well enough, which I think they will.
John hit on great points, as Lance does below, so I'm not going to repeat what they wrote. Instead, I'm going to talk about the pass rush. Last season, the Giants recorded just 27 sacks, the fourth-fewest in franchise history since the sack became an official stat in 1982. And Jason Pierre-Paul, who was traded to Tampa Bay, accounted for 8.5 of them, or 31 percent. So how do the Giants make that up?
First, James Bettcher's scheme should provide a boost. His Cardinals defenses consistently ranked in the top 10 and in his three years as defensive coordinator, they were tied with Minnesota for the seventh-most sacks in the league. From the looks and sounds of it, the Giants are going to be more of an attacking-style defense, sending pressure from everywhere, as opposed to just relying on the front four. Now it's the front-three plus linebackers, which includes Olivier Vernon.
That brings me to my next point. Vernon is an X-factor in this whole operation. He was banged up for much of the 2017 season and missed games for the first time in his career. When he was on the field, he didn't get to the quarterback as much as he wanted to, which led to some frustration and penalties for roughing the passer. Now, they have him tied to the hip of outside linebacker Kareem Martin, who knows the scheme from his Arizona days. How they develop together will be a major factor in the Giants' success this season. If they get production from rookie Lorenzo Carter, even better. n
While all the focus has been on some new weapons on offense and a new defensive scheme under James Bettcher, it seems as if the always forgotten third facet of football is being overlooked, special teams. Field position is so important in the NFL and as was well documented in 2017, that was an area that impacted the Giants' season. They enter 2018 with a new special teams coordinator in Thomas McGaughey, a new punter in Riley Dixon, another competition at kicker that two young players in Aldrick Rosas and Marshall Koehn, who have one season of experience combined, and many new faces on the coverage and return units.
Don't get me wrong, change is not necessarily a bad thing, but it's fair to say special teams is a bit of an unknown at this point. Last season, the Giants ranked 28th in the league in average kickoff return (19.6 yards) and 31st in average punt return (5.5 yards). On the coverage units, the Giants surrendered 20.5 yards per kickoff return (14th NFL) and 10.4 yards per punt return (T-26th NFL), including an 88-yard touchdown by Jamal Agnew in Week 2 against the Lions. The Giants certainly want to improve in all four of those categories. Field position impacts the offense just as much as the defense. The additions of free agents such as safety Michael Thomas and wide receivers Cody Latimer and Russell Shepard should bolster the special teams, but that's an area of the team to keep close tabs on during training camp and the preseason as the team looks for players who can help in both the return game and in coverage.
Photos from the Giants third OTA practice!