Year 2 of the Joe Judge era begins Sunday.
The New York Giants kick off the 2021 season at home in an interconference matchup with the Denver Broncos. Big Blue is looking to build off an encouraging 2020 finish, but none of that matters now as records are reset to 0-0.
Here are three things the Giants must do to win their first opener since 2016, the last time they made the playoffs:
The Giants trailed, 16-10, 17-0, 16-6, 10-6, and 24-20, at halftime in their five losses to start the 2020 season. Thus, Judge emphasized the importance of coming out of the gates strong in 2021 – regardless of opponent. When he saw the Denver Broncos appear on the schedule in Week 1, he drove home the point. The Broncos take on the identity of coach Vic Fangio, whom Judge called "one of the top defensive minds for decades in this league." Inside that mind is an "aggressive, downhill" approach to the game.
"This is not a team that dips their toe in the water," Judge said. "It's a fast-start team that's going to come out swinging. We've got to make sure we have a good week of practice from Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and carry it over into the game on Sunday."
Meanwhile, history indicates that the best way for a team to start its drive toward a Super Bowl championship is to win in Week 1. The 55 Super Bowl winners have a 44-10-1 record in the Kickoff Weekend games of their title seasons. In 2020, the 14 playoff teams compiled an 11-3 record in their openers, with the eight division winners going a perfect 8-0.
Keep from losing before you can start winning.
September football is an extension of the preseason as teams try to find their footing. Assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Patrick Graham knows this as well as anyone and said Week 1 is all about limiting mistakes.
"I'm looking for us not to beat ourselves," he explained. "No penalties, cut down on the mental errors, make sure we're tackling. You know how it is. You guys have been around football long enough – the first week of the season – I mean, how many missed tackles, how many missed assignments, people wide open, all types of stuff. … We've got to cut down on that, so that's what I'm looking forward to, not allowing these guys to run free, make sure we know where we're supposed to be, make sure I'm not screwing up any situations with calls."
Graham will be facing off against former Giants head coach and current Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who is committed to running the ball.
"We've got to match their intensity in the run game," Graham said. "You've got an offensive line that plays well together. I know they've got a new piece at the right tackle spot, but they play well together, so it's a challenge. But that's where it starts and then from there, the stuff off the run game – you've got the play-actions, the boots, the nakeds, however you want to play off of that. And then, as usual, it comes down to the people. You've got a skill group like they have, the backs, the tight end, the quarterback. I think (Broncos quarterback) Teddy's (Bridgewater) brought a calming sense to the offense. You could see that in just the efficiency in which he operated during the preseason and just over his career, so it's a challenge. The coordinator is part of it and he's a good coach and he's done a good job for a long time in this league, but they've got some good players that we've got to get focused in on."
Don't let the unicorn ruin your day in a heartbeat.
Even without Von Miller, who missed all of last season with an ankle injury, the Fangio-led Broncos ranked ninth in sacks. Now, Miller is back. The Giants will await the status of fellow Pro Bowler Bradley Chubb, who is coincidentally dealing with ankle injury, but are likely to face a tough test out of the gates.
"I think the point of emphasis for anyone going against Von Miller, Chubb, or any of their very talented rushers is just do your job, play your technique and trust what you've been taught to do," Judge said. "That's it. They don't have to do anything outside what they're taught to do. They don't have to do anything superhuman."
Even when a player like Miller can wreck a game plan.
"Seeing this guy back in the game, that's good for football," Judge said. "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. I said this earlier a few minutes ago, but when we talk to our scouts going into the draft and they ask, 'What are you guys looking for in certain roles?' You almost want to say like, 'You know the Von Millers of the world? Don't bother looking for that guy because that guy doesn't exist many places. Like if he shows up, we'll find him, don't worry about it.' So, this guy is just a rare player. He's kind of a unicorn of an edge rusher to be as just explosive and athletic and strong for his size, and instinctive and productive. Look, I've been on the other side from this guy several times and I'm telling you, he can ruin your day in a heartbeat if you try and do something other than your job."
View photos from Wednesday's practice as the Giants prepare for their Week 1 matchup against the Broncos.