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Cover 4: Biggest variable heading into 2022


The crew discusses the biggest variables heading into the 2022 season

John Schmeelk: How well will the Giants' cornerbacks perform? In Wink Martindale's scheme from Baltimore, he played as much or more Cover-1 (man-to-man with one deep safety) and Cover-0 (man-to-man with no deep safeties) than any other defensive coordinator in the league. Those schemes put a lot of pressure on a team's cornerbacks to stay with opposing wide receivers in a lot of space.

Adoree' Jackson is a proven NFL cornerback, but neither Darnay Holmes nor Aaron Robinson has a large track record of success because of their lack of NFL snaps. Both are talented enough to do what is being asked of them, but can they sustain that play against NFL wide receivers in regular season games? Wide receiver is one of the most talented and deepest positions in the NFL, so those players will be challenged every week by some of the best athletes on the planet.

Is there a chance that Martindale shifts to more of a zone-based scheme like the Giants showed in the preseason? Sure, but can't believe it until you see it. Martindale wants to dictate the tempo of the game with pressure packages, which result in more man-to-man defense being played behind the extra pressure.

Can the cornerbacks hold up without a lot of help? It might determine the success of the Giants' season.

Dan Salomone: The offensive line will be the biggest variable until it isn't. Although this group may fly under the radar with other teams, it hasn't been the case with the Giants. And general manager Joe Schoen set out to erase the unit as a talking point in the future. The Giants used the seventh overall pick (starting right tackle Evan Neal) and 67th (the versatile Joshua Ezeudu) to fortify the line and found their starting center (Jon Feliciano) and right guard (Mark Glowinski) in free agency. The offensive line is one of the positions where it's better not to be noticed. So, if all goes to plan, Schoen won't be fielding questions about it next off-season. But the real test begins Sept. 11 in Tennessee.

View photos of the New York Giants' 2022 roster as it currently stands.

Lance Medow: The easy answer here is the health and durability of the roster, but you can say that about all 32 teams in the NFL. So, let's take it a step further. In each of the last two seasons, the Giants averaged less than 20 points per game, so that's the number to focus on the most in 2022. No matter what the defense produces this year, it's still going to come back to the offensive side of the ball, which is dependent on several factors including Daniel Jones' consistency, the play of the offensive line as well as the versatility of the receiving corps. Most of the league's strongest teams have a good idea what they're getting out of their signal caller game to game and can rely on specific stats. Will the Giants get to that point this season or will production resemble more of the Richter scale during a very strong earthquake? It's hard to answer given the track record and the fact that there's a new coaching staff implementing a fresh scheme - those factors create even more variables.

With so many movable parts on offense, you can pin it on one specific player. Although Jones will dictate much, the performance of Saquon Barkley along with the majority of the receivers will determine whether Jones can take his game to the next level. The bottom line is this team's average scoring output will tell an awful lot as to where they go in 2022. Last season, the Giants scored 23 points or less in 14 of their 17 games; and won just two of those contests despite allowing 21 points or less nine times on the season.

Matt Citak: The success of the Giants' defense could lie in the hands of the group up front. With Wink Martindale's blitz-heavy defense in place, there's no denying that the Giants will get creative when it comes to sending pressure at opposing quarterbacks. But even so, the unit is going to need its talented playmakers up front to make plays.

The Giants boast one of the league's most talented interior duos with Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence. Williams has been one of the most consistent interior defensive linemen since he entered the league in 2015. In each of the last seven seasons, he has registered at least 700 defensive snaps and 45 quarterback pressures. His 44 quarterback hits since the start of 2020 are tied for the seventh-most among D-linemen, and his 18.0 sacks are tied for fifth in that same span. He was recently named to the NFL Top 100 Players of 2022. Meanwhile, Lawrence recorded career-highs of 43 quarterback pressures and a 74.0 PFF pass rushing grade last season and was ranked No. 19 by PFF in their list of top interior defenders this summer.

Now let's move to the edge, where the Giants have two players whose upside is through the roof. Azeez Ojulari registered eight sacks in 2021, a new franchise rookie record, and also set a new franchise mark by picking up a sack in each of his first three games. The second-year OLB has put on some muscle leading up to training camp, which should boost his strength going up against opposing tackles. Opposite Ojulari is No. 5 overall pick Kayvon Thibodeaux, who put up some impressive numbers during his years at Oregon. The two provide the team with their most talented edge rushing duo in years, and while their status for Week 1 remains in the air, they should both be back on the field soon.

If all four of these players can stay on the field, the pass rush should find a lot of success this season, which in turn would provide a big boost to the defense as a whole.

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