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21 Questions in 21 Days

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21 Questions: Next steps in Year 2 under Joe Judge


With the calendar flipped to July, asks 21 important questions heading into the team's 2021 training camp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

For 21 days, a member of the crew will answer one question about the roster, coaching staff, schedule, and much more.

No. 15: What can Giants fans expect in Year 2 of the Joe Judge era?

Dan Salomone: On Jan. 9, 2020, Joe Judge said at his introductory press conference that "you don't build the Empire State Building by washing the windows; you build it with the foundation and work it on up." While teams like the Buccaneers and Chiefs sat in their skyscrapers last season, the Giants started to build brick by brick. That's how you get back to the top – not only for a season, but for the long run.

Judge didn't promise to bring any magic wand to the organization or feed fans with the schematic flavor of the year. Rather, he set his sights on incremental improvement. Although it may not have looked like it on the outside when the Giants started 0-5 (and then 1-7), Judge said after the regular-season finale that he learned more about the team during that stretch than he did during the four-game winning streak – one that kept the NFC East race alive until the 256th and final game of an unprecedented NFL season.

So, what's Phase II of this construction project?

"I have kind of a vision internally that I know where we're going, and I have a process and steps," he said in his season-ending press conference. "Obviously, we have to improve on the field with some tangible results. We could look at that. We have to make sure we make progress across the board with personnel and schematics. But I have kind of measures in the rungs along the way that I kind of keep tabs on. I make sure the team is moving in the right direction. Not to be kind of evasive with that answer right there, but I'm not going to set out some identified goal for everyone to go ahead and measure us against on a yearly basis."

You'll know it when he takes out the Windex and squeegee.

Lance Medow: When Jason Garrett addressed the media during OTAs, he brought up an interesting point when he emphasized how turnovers in the first half of the season and the lack of explosive plays overall were two factors that defined the 2020 season. The offense had 15 of their 22 turnovers in the first eight games and recorded just 36 pass plays of 20+ yards (second-fewest in the NFL). Those are big reasons why the team is hoping the additions of Kenny Golladay and rookie Kadarius Toney will help improve a unit that averaged just 17.5 points per game (31st in NFL).

The simplistic answer to this question is the Giants need to score more points, but that's easier said than done. As Garrett pointed out, it's a matter of producing many more explosive plays and, most important, better ball security over the course of the season. Turnovers are killers because they're the equivalent to lost at-bats in baseball. The more opportunities you have in the box, the better your chances of getting on base. The same can be said in football where every possession carries a great deal of weight, especially when you're not scoring at a high rate, which is what happened last season.

John Schmeelk: In his first season, Daniel Jones was very productive in terms of yards (3,027 in 13 starts) and touchdowns (24), but his fumble (18) and interception numbers (12) were too high. Pro Football Focus tracks a quarterback's turnover-worthy plays each year (which account for tipped balls, dropped interceptions, etc.) and Jones finished with 31 in 2018, which was the fourth-most in the NFL.

In 2020, Jones became a more efficient quarterback. His turnover-worthy plays dropped to 17, which was tied for only the 16th-most in the NFL. His completion percentage ticked up to 62.5% and he was one of the more efficient deep passers in the NFL, even though he did not have a lot of attempts. His production also dropped, with 2,943 passing yards in 14 games and 11 touchdowns. He was more productive as part of the read-option run game with 423 rushing yards.

Jones needs to combine the strong points from his first two seasons in 2021 by mixing higher production with improved efficiency and be aggressive down the field while protecting the football. It's also important for him to stay healthy for all 17 games. A few good numerical goals would be to get his completion percentage above 63%, his passing yards above 3,500, and keep his TD-to-INT ratio at 2-1 while finishing the year with more than 25 touchdown passes.

Given the Giants' list of improved playmakers and a young and potentially improved offensive line, those type of numbers should be very realistic for Jones this season. From a team perspective, it would mean getting the offense into the top half of the league, and scoring more than 24 points per game. If he can do all that, the Giants should win enough games to make the playoffs.

View photos of Giants quarterback Daniel Jones throughout his NFL career.

Lance Medow: Much like the start of the 2020 season, the Giants' offense will be tested right out of the gates against several defenses that are either returning a good portion of their units from last year or made some noticeable additions this offseason. The Rams, Washington, and Saints all ranked in the top five in scoring defense in 2020, and the Broncos have several weapons at all levels of their group. That accounts for four of New York's first six opponents. We'll learn a lot about the Giants offense following the first quarter of the season.

I like the fact that four of the team's six divisional games will take place in the final seven contests of the season. With those games carrying a great deal of weight for who will win the division, it makes much more sense to have them later in the season when all of those teams have a much better feel and comfort level with what they're running on both sides of the ball.

Interestingly, the Giants will have three sets of consecutive road games this season in Weeks 4-5, 13-14, and 16-17. The last two are worth highlighting because that includes trips to Philadelphia and Chicago in late December and early January, when weather could very well factor into the game plan. There's only so much you can take away from the schedule because we don't know how opponents will look later in the season, the impact injuries will have on opponents, etc. With that being said, the Giants will face two teams with new coaching staffs and schemes -- the Eagles (Weeks 12, 16) and Chargers (Week14) -- later in the season when you could argue there will be more film to study. A the same time, those teams will have a bit more comfort with what they're running at that point. On the flip side, they play the Falcons in Week 3 when there will be a bit more of the unknown surrounding that opponent.

Dan Salomone: Fans, fans, fans. They're back. The boos from Eagles supporters will never have sounded so sweet to the Giants after the coronavirus pandemic upended 2020. In late May, it was announced MetLife Stadium could operate at full capacity, meaning the home crowd will see the team for the first time in the Joe Judge era.

"I can't wait to walk in a stadium and hear it at a deafening level," Judge said shortly after the decision was made. "That's something I'm really looking forward to and feeling the energy of the fans. It's something we've missed, and I've expressed before how much we value and thrive on as a team, going out playing in front of your home crowd and the animosity playing on the road against a visiting crowd."

John Schmeelk: It's either the Dallas Cowboys or the Washington Football Team. Washington has what could be a Top 5 defense, but they have a journeyman at quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick and young players at their skill positions. When in doubt, go with the team with the best quarterback and that's Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys.

The Cowboys ranked 14th in the NFL in yards per game last year (371.8) without Dak Prescott for 11 games, their starting left (Tyron Smith) and right tackle (La'el Collins) missing a combined 30 games, All-Pro guard Zack Martin missing six games, and starting tight end Blake Jarwin missing 15 games. With Ceedee Lamb entering his second season and joining forces with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup outside, the Cowboys' offense should be a Top 5 unit this year.

On defense, Dallas allowed the fifth-most points in the NFL (29.6 points). In eight of their 16 games last season, Dallas allowed 33 or more points. They drafted exclusively on the defensive side of the ball and hired a new defensive coordinator in Dan Quinn. Despite the poor defense and injuries on offense last season, Dallas still finished tied with the Giants at six wins.

If Dallas can keep Dak Prescott on the field, keep their offensive tackles healthy and approach mediocrity on defense, they should be able to win somewhere around 10 games. If that's the case, they will be the Giants' biggest competition in the NFC East.

Lance Medow: The Giants were very aggressive this offseason, adding several players through free agency and the draft at various positions. That's why it's very easy to overlook former Vikings edge rusher Ifeadi Odenigbo, who proved to be a nice complement to Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffin in Minnesota over the last two seasons.

The Giants need someone to assume a similar role opposite pass rusher Leonard Williams. They also lost Kyler Fackrell to the Chargers after he finished tied for second on the team with four sacks in 2020. Odenigbo had seven sacks in 2019 and although his total dipped to 3.5 last season, he also recorded 15 quarterback hits, three tackles for loss and a safety. He's capable of being a disruptive player. It's all about opportunity within the Giants' scheme.

Dan Salomone: For starters, they're getting a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award (which goes annually to the nation's top defensive player in college football) and the 2020 SEC leader in sacks and tackles for loss. The Giants' familiarity with the linebacker, however, went deeper than the numbers. Kevin Sherrer, who will be his position coach in the NFL, originally recruited Ojulari at the University of Georgia. Additionally, the Giants have a host of former college coaches on staff who also coached against Ojulari and "he's always a guy that stood out to them on the field as someone they had to account for," coach Joe Judge pointed out after the draft.

After trading back from No. 42 overall to No. 50, the Giants had a "bunch of guys" they liked in that range, but director of college scouting Chris Pettit said what set Ojulari apart was his pro-ready hands, instincts, and the "ability to make big plays in big spots." The Giants' top offseason priority was adding offensive playmakers for Daniel Jones, but pass rush help was not far below it.

John Schmeelk: You could look at this receiving corps like a basketball team – they have different players with complimentary skill sets. Toney is electric with the ball in his hands and can turn a 3-yard pass into a 50-yard gain because of his elusiveness, strength, speed, quickness and creativity.

Toney was not the most polished route runner in college, but there's no reason to think he cannot become more adept running the route tree with more reps in the NFL. He will probably open primarily in the slot with plays designed for him to take advantage of his freakish abilities. Expect a lot of screen passes, slants, end-arounds, shovel passes and jet sweeps to start the season. And don't forget about his return abilities, either.