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Giants vs. Patriots: 5 storylines to follow Sunday

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Following two days of joint practices in Foxborough this week, the Giants will welcome the Patriots to MetLife Stadium for the preseason finale on Sunday. 

Head Coach Joe Judge told the media that this week's contest would be treated like the third preseason game in previous years, with the starters seeing their first significant game action of the season. 

Here are five story lines to keep an eye on in the matchup:

Daniel Jones makes his 2021 debut

 Daniel Jones has openly acknowledged how important the 2021 season is for him. Well, after sitting out the first two games of the preseason, the third-year quarterback is set to make his 2021 debut against the New England Patriots. 

"Just to get out there, be comfortable, move the ball and score points," Jones said regarding his goals for Sunday's contest. "Like any game or practice, just execute football plays, move the ball down the field and score. So, be efficient and execute as an offense."

The Giants won't have their complete set of offensive weapons on the field, as Saquon Barkley, Kenny Golladay, Kyle Rudolph and Kadarius Toney will all be watching from the sidelines. Regardless, New England and its talented defense will serve as the first opportunity for Jones to showcase the improvement in his game.

View photos of the Giants practicing with the Patriots in New England ahead of Sunday's preseason finale.

O-line will get its first significant test

After playing 18 snaps in the preseason opener against the New York Jets, none of the team's likely starting offensive linemen played in last week's contest against the Browns. Instead, the backups saw extended action in Cleveland, playing 50+ snaps apiece. But on Sunday, expect the starters to get back out there and see their first significant playing time of the preseason.

"Just working on my technique and just getting better, like I said," center Nick Gates said on what he hopes to accomplish against the Patriots. "Just coming together as a group, just communicating well and just making sure everybody is on the same page." 

Gates and the entire offensive line have shown improvement since the start of training camp. Going up against your teammates in practice is one thing, but facing an opponent in an actual game (albeit a preseason contest) is another beast. Pats head coach Bill Belichick is a defensive guru and will provide the Giants' O-line with its toughest challenge yet.

"It starts every day and trying to get better each and every day," Gates said on Friday. "We've come a long way since the beginning of camp, but we've still got a little bit of a ways to go before the season starts. This game will be good for us to all finally get together and work more than just 19 to 20 plays. It'll be good. We've come along, but we've still got some to go." 

Battle for the final WR spot?

Most of the wide receiver spots on the roster are already filled. We know that Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, and Kadarius Toney are locks, while John Ross could make the final cut, too. 

There is no denying that David Sills V has been one of the bright spots of training camp. The young receiver led the team with three receptions for 49 yards against the Jets in the preseason opener before finishing with three receptions for 31 yards and a touchdown against the Browns last week. In addition to Sills, guys including C.J. Board, Matt Cole and Dante Pettis have proven their worth, both as receivers and on special teams.

Who will play next to Blake Martinez?

We know Blake Martinez will be starting at inside linebacker for the Giants this season. The big question is who will be starting next to him?

"Team first, football position," Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham said about what he's looking for in the guy starting next to Martinez. "All the stuff we talk about, that's how we evaluate these guys, value the process and then in terms of the football part of it, football position, I'm looking for someone that plays with his hands, plays with good knee bend, knows where to be and you want something that complements, it all depends on what the call is, what the personnel grouping is. We mix and match so much you never know. It might be a coverage guy, it might be another run guy, it might be a blitzer. We just mix it up and just see how it plays out based on what the plan is for that game, if that makes sense."

Tae Crowder played well next to Martinez during his rookie season last year, collecting 57 total tackles (34 solo), a sack and a fumble recovery for a touchdown in 11 games (six starts). The second-year linebacker is certainly in the mix for the starting job, but he has some tough competition. 

Veteran Reggie Ragland was added during the offseason to bring some more experience to the linebacker corps. Ragland, 27, is entering his fifth season in the NFL, and more than anything, he knows how to win. After collecting two national championships while playing under Nick Saban at Alabama, Ragland went on to win Super Bowl LIV with the Kansas City Chiefs.

The most intriguing name in the running for the other starting inside linebacker spot is Carter Coughlin. Coughlin played on the outside last season, but the coaching staff decided to cross-train the second-year pro inside this summer. Against the Jets, he played 24 snaps at inside linebacker and earned a 91.4 overall grade from Pro Football Focus, picking up five tackles (four solo), one sack, one tackle for loss and a forced fumble.

"I think the thing you saw was a guy being explosive, running to the ball and really being a reflection of what (Head Coach) Joe (Judge) wants this team to look like," Graham said about Coughlin last week. "Fast, tough, smart, being physical, working on special teams as well. So again, as the team starts to take shape and take shape of the direction of the head coach, a lot of stuff Joe talks about, I thought was reflected in his play."

First look at the pass rush

The Giants' pass rushers this year look significantly different than the group we saw for most of the 2020 campaign. The team spent it's second-round pick on Azeez Ojulari, Pro Football Focus' highest-rated pass rusher in the 2021 draft class, and it's fourth-round pick on Elerson Smith. Although Smith has yet to do much during camp due to an injury, Ojulari has shown glimpses of what made him such a strong talent at Georgia last year.

In free agency, the Giants signed Ifeadi Odenigbo from the Minnesota Vikings, where he registered seven sacks in a limited role back in 2019. Additionally, Washington's Ryan Anderson was brought in during the offseason. Anderson had four sacks and a five forced fumbles two seasons ago while mostly serving as a reserve.

Perhaps the biggest additions to the team's group of edge rushers are a couple of familiar faces. Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines suffered season-ending injuries towards the start of last season. Both are now healthy and back in action, and already showing signs of being fully back to their pre-injury forms. Ximines picked up an elite 86.7 pass rush grade from PFF in last week's contest against the Browns, while the coaching staff has been raving about Carter all summer.

Of course, the big men in the middle of the defensive line cannot be forgotten. Leonard Williams led the Giants with 11.5 sacks last year, while Dexter Lawrence saw his sack total jump from 2.5 to 4.0 between his first two seasons. This could be the first opportunity to see the pass rush in its entirety.

View photos of the New York Giants' active 53-man roster as it currently stands heading into Week 1.

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