We made it, folks. After months of waiting, Week 1 is finally here.
The Giants will welcome the Denver Broncos to MetLife Stadium this Sunday for the season opener. The Giants are 7-6 all-time against the Broncos, with the last meeting coming in Week 6 of the 2017 season. Evan Engram caught five passes for 82 yards and a touchdown in the game, while the defense caused three turnovers, leading the Giants to a 23-10 victory.
The Broncos went 3-0 during the preseason, outscoring the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams by a combined score of 80-21. A big reason for Denver's offensive success is due to the strong play of QB Teddy Bridgewater, who beat out Drew Lock for the starting job.
With the Giants looking for their first Week 1 win since 2016, here are five story lines to follow in Sunday's matchup against the Broncos.
Daniel Jones looks to take the next step in Year 3
Daniel Jones was the first one to admit at the start of training camp that the 2021 season is a big one for him. The young quarterback is entering his third season in the NFL and is looking to take the next step in his development this year.
In his only preseason action this summer, Jones completed 17 of 22 passes for 135 yards in one half. He threw a beautiful 23-yard touchdown pass to Kaden Smith, placing the ball out of the defender's reach in a spot where only Smith could catch it. Two drives earlier, he threw an interception while facing a 3rd-and-goal from the 1. He improved his turnover ratio in 2020, decreasing his number of interceptions by two and fumbles by seven even though he started two more games than his rookie season.
"I think the biggest difference, obviously, is just time in the system," coach Joe Judge said about Jones Wednesday. "He's obviously a year further in the league. We didn't have preseason games last year. We didn't have any kind of a spring last year. Training camp itself was just tremendously different and limited on time. I think obviously the time he's had to prepare and be with his teammates has helped him. I've seen a lot of growth with him throughout the offseason and it's carried through spring, training camp and in the regular season right now in terms of being a leader, being a guy who really is vocal with the team and gets the guys going."
Denver's defense allowed the second-fewest passing touchdowns last year, and ranked No. 1 in red zone defense. The Broncos have one of the league's most talented secondaries with Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby and Pat Surtain II at cornerback and Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson at safety.
Offensive weapons getting healthy
We are still a few days away from kickoff, so the injury status of several players is still up in the air. However, Judge indicated to the media that most of them have been progressing well, making the team optimistic that they'll be able to suit up.
"I'd say a number of these guys coming back right now, we're optimistic about all of them, to be honest with you," Judge said Monday. "We'll see how they do throughout this week in practice. Saw a lot of guys make a lot of gains last week. There are a lot of guys that are getting reintroduced to the team that missed some time in training camp. I'd say it was a productive week in terms of them making progress with the team on the field. Obviously, this week will be a big thing for them."
The most anticipated return to the field is that of running back Saquon Barkley, who has not appeared in a game since tearing his ACL in Week 2 last year. Barkley has looked good at practice and recently moved to live contact at practice. But Judge told the media that a final decision would not be made on the star running back until later in the week.
The team is optimistic that several wide receivers will be on the field for the opener. Kenny Golladay, one of the team's big off-season acquisitions, injured his hamstring during training camp but has made great progress over the last few weeks. Additionally, rookie Kadarius Toney appears to have a good chance of making his NFL debut this weekend. The two newcomers, combined with Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton, should provide Jones with a talented group of receivers.
Tight end Evan Engram was injured during the final preseason game against the Patriots, and his status remains up in the air. But veteran Kyle Rudolph appears ready to suit up after sitting out most of training camp.
Slowing down Denver's pass rush
The Giants announced the unofficial depth chart for Week 1 on Tuesday. While most of it remained the same from the last depth chart the team released during the preseason, there was one notable change along the offensive line. Veteran Nate Solder was listed as the starter at right tackle, taking the spot from second-year tackle Matt Peart. Solder joins Will Hernandez, Nick Gates, Shane Lemieux and Andrew Thomas as the starters along the O-line.
The Broncos ranked ninth in the league in sacks last season, taking down opposing quarterbacks 42 times. The unit is led by their talented pass rushing duo of Bradley Chubb and veteran Von Miller. Chubb is coming off his first Pro Bowl campaign, registering 7.5 sacks, nine tackles for loss and 19 quarterback hits in 14 games. Miller missed the entire 2020 campaign with a tendon injury, but appears healthy and ready to go. In addition to the two edge rushers, the Broncos also have Malik Reed (8.0 sacks) and Dre'Mont Jones (6.5 sacks) rounding out their strong pass rush.
"Look, these are very, very talented players," Judge said about Miller and Chubb. "These are two of the best edge rushers in the game. Now look, to miss a guy like Von Miller for the season last year, that's a shame to everyone who's involved in football. ... Seeing this guy back in the game, that's good for football. Now, he's a tough competitor and it's a great challenge, but to see him come off the edge, whether he's trying to dip and get the edge on you with that great get-off and speed or it's that spin-move coming back inside because you overplay the outside because you're worried about him beating you outside and you give up the inside. This guy is a different level of player."
"Definitely a dominant group at outside linebacker," Thomas said about Chubb and Miller. "Both very talented. We'll have to be on our A game to block them."
View photos from Wednesday's practice as the Giants prepare for their Week 1 matchup against the Broncos.
Limiting Teddy Bridgewater
Following a close training camp competition, Teddy Bridgewater emerged as the starting quarterback for the Broncos, beating out third-year QB Drew Lock. This is Bridgewater's first season with the Broncos after starting 15 games for the Carolina Panthers in 2020. He completed 69.1 percent of his passes for 3,733 yards, 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while adding 279 yards and five scores on the ground.
Bridgewater put up strong performances in each of Denver's three preseason games. He finished the preseason completing 73.3 percent of his passes (22 of 30) for 241 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
The Giants' defense played well in 2020, finishing ninth in points and 12th in yards allowed. The team's 22 passing touchdowns allowed were tied for the fifth-fewest in the league, while the unit's 50.8 percent red zone defense was the second-best mark.
Matching up against Broncos' playmakers
The Broncos' offense features a deep and talented group of playmakers. Veteran Melvin Gordon averaged 4.6 yards per carry last season, recording 986 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. Joining him year is rookie second-round pick Javonte Williams, who is fresh off earning second-team All-American honors at North Carolina.
Denver has used a lot of prime draft capital on the wide receiver position over the last few years. Courtland Sutton was a second-round pick (No. 40) in 2018, while Jerry Jeudy (No. 15) and K.J. Hamler (No. 46) were taken in the first two rounds of the 2020 draft. All three have shown a lot of potential since entering the NFL, and joining them in the WR room is Tim Patrick, who caught 51 passes for 742 yards and six TDs last year. While the Broncos didn't spend a high draft pick on the WR position in 2019, they chose tight end Noah Fant with the No. 20 overall pick. Fant finished with 62 receptions for 673 yards and three touchdowns in 15 games (14 starts) in 2020.
"Bridgewater is doing a great job of operating within his offense of making good decisions, facilitating the offense, getting the ball moving consistently going on down, tying in that running back combination they have right there with two talented running backs and obviously they have one of the top, if not the top receiving corps in the entire league," Judge said about the Broncos offense. "You tie in a bunch of very talented tight ends and right there, they got a skill group who is very tough to match up against for any team in the league. It'll be a great challenge for us this week."
Following some offseason additions, the Giants boast one of the league's most talented secondaries. James Bradberry is coming off his first Pro Bowl selection, and lining up opposite him will likely be Adoree' Jackson, another one of the team's big offseason acquisitions. Big Blue's defensive backfield is also made up of safeties Logan Ryan, Jabrill Peppers, Xavier McKinney and Julian Love, helping to give the team one of the deepest group of DBs.