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Fact or Fiction: Top storylines & keys to 2021 season


The crew is presented with four statements and must decide whether they are Fact or Fiction.

The status of Saquon Barkley is the No. 1 story line as the Giants enter game week.

John Schmeelk: Fiction - Joe Judge has been non-committal about whether Saquon Barkley will play in Week 1, but unless there is some kind of medical setback, it would be shocking if he doesn't play. He will be off PUP for more than a month when the Giants host Denver on Sept. 12. He participated in 7-on-7 drills last week against the Patriots. He is moving well. Unless the team holds him out because of the short turn-around in week two against Washington, it would be surprisingif he wasn't active on game day and took a significant workload. It's more interesting to see who will be the starter at right tackle, given how Matt Peart and Nate Solder rotated series in the final preseason game.

Dan Salomone: Fact - Barkley is one of those player who impacts the game in more ways than just his individual stat line. While he does stuff it – make no mistake there – he loosens up the offense for the passing game, which should lead to more points and take pressure off the defense. And then there's the emotional lift he would bring the team should he return.

Lance Medow: Fact - You could say the status of Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, Darius Slayton and Evan Engram are just as important given the Giants want to have as many of their offensive weapons on the field together as possible for Week 1, especially considering the tough Denver defense. Saquon Barkley suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 2 last season was a significant loss but the Giants still managed to run the ball effectively in his absence. If this offense is going to take the next step forward and vastly improve upon the 17.5 points it averaged in 2020, the Giants will also need the passing game to take a major leap and it will be hard to pull off that feat without a healthy Golladay and Toney.

The Broncos pose a bigger threat on offense than defense in Week 1.

John Schmeelk: Fiction - Here's a bold prediction for you: The Broncos will have a Top-5 defense in 2021. Von Miller and Bradley Chubb are both dynamic edge rushers, despite past injuries. The Broncos have four cornerbacks who could start for many teams: Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, Patrick Surtain II, and Bryce Callahan. They also have one of the best safeties in the league in Justin Simmons. Vic Fangio is also one of the best defensive minds in the game. Their defense is going to be very strong. This is not to discount their talent at the skill positions. Melvin Gordon, Javonte Williams, Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, KJ Hamler, and Noah Fant are a formidable group. The Broncos are going to be a lot better than people think if Teddy Bridgewater plays well and they can protect him.

Dan Salomone: Fiction - Two words: Vic Fangio. Need two more? Von Miller. Fangio's defenses have ranked in the league's top five in yards allowed in eight of the last 14 years, while placing top five in fewest points allowed seven times over that span.

Lance Medow: Fiction - It's very easy to overlook the Broncos' offense because Teddy Bridgewater didn't necessarily light up the scoreboard with the Panthers last season, but Denver's group is very underrated. Their offensive line has made significant strides, especially with the emergence of left tackle Garrett Bolles. They ave a 1-2 punch in the backfield with veteran Melvin Gordon and rookie Javonte Williams and Bridgewater isn't a quarterback that makes many mistakes. Receivers Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler and Tim Patrick and tight end Noah Fant, offer Bridgewater plenty of weapons. You can't sleep on this Denver offense, but the defense has more proven commodities and firepower. Pass rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb are both healthy and Denver may showcase the best secondary in the NFL with corners Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby, Bryce Callahan and rookie Patrick Surtain II as well as safeties Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson. That group is more than capable of wreaking havoc across the board.

Catch up on all the summer action with these must-see photos from training camp and preseason games.

The key to the offense's success in 2021 is limiting turnovers.

John Schmeelk: Fiction - Turnovers are always a big deal and this is not written in an effort to discount them. Any team that turns over the ball is going to struggle to score and win games, but that can be said for any team. For the Giants specifically, the only answer here is offensive line play. Saquon Barkley's health won't mean a whole lot if the team can't open up lanes for him in the running game. It will also be difficult to judge how much Daniel Jones has improved if he is constantly under siege in the passing game. If the Giants offense wants to be better, the offensive line must be more consistent than it was last year. If it isn't, nothing else will matter.

Dan Salomone: Fact - You can't block or score in the red zone if you don't have the ball. An emerging theme with the team has been the idea that you need to learn how to stop losing before you can win. Judge explained that philosophy this week.

"The league is built for parity," he said. "There's good coaches on every team. There's good players on every team. It's too close a competition. Over a third of the games – I believe the stat is right now – are decided by three points or less, so mistakes kill your chances of winning. We talk all the time about being smart, tough, and fundamentally sound. That ties into being smart in knowing the assignment and the execution. Tough, physically and mentally tough, to be able to go out there and handle adversity. And then fundamentally sound, for us at every position to have good execution on every play. Every good play starts with good fundamentals, so we're always stressing those three principles to make sure that we're not having turnovers, penalties, mental errors. That's obviously a key component for us. It's tough enough to win a game in the National Football League. If you put yourself behind the eight ball with self-inflicted wounds, it becomes even tougher."

Lance Medow: Fiction - Protecting the ball is always a priority and limiting turnovers is an important factor that will help determine the offense's outlook this season - but red zone efficiency is at the top of the list. Case in point, the Giants did a much better job protecting the ball in the second half of last season. They had 15 turnovers in the first eight games, but just seven in the final eight yet they still averaged just under 17 points per contest in the second half of the season. They struggled to punch the ball in and consistently finish drives. In 2020, the Giants finished 31st in the NFL in red zone efficiency. They scored touchdowns just 46% of the time and this production has to drastically improve, regardless of how the turnovers play out.

The key to the defense's success in 2021 is generating more sacks.

John Schmeelk: Fiction - Creating more sacks is the easy answer here, but the Giants had the 12th-best sack rate in the league last year. Could an improved sack rate, especially if it comes with blitzing fewer times, help the defense? Sure. But let's focus on a different aspect - third-down defense. One reason the Giants succeeded last year was their ability to prevent big plays. Only three teams allowed fewer splash passing plays than the Giants (six of 40+ yards), and only four allowed fewer big passing plays (20+ yards) than the Giants (43). The Giants did not allow many chunk plays.

Dan Salomone: Fact - Adding playmakers on offense was the much-publicized priority for the Giants, but upgrading the edge was not too far below on the to-do list. Drafting Azeez Ojulari, the SEC leader in sacks and tackles for loss, will help the cause – so will a healthy Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines. Don't forget the role of the secondary when it comes to pressuring quarterbacks. It all works hand in hand.

Lance Medow: Fiction - Last season, the Giants collected 40 sacks (tied for 12th NFL) but Leonard Williams was the only player to finish in double digits in that category. That means, you can't just pencil in 40 sacks again for this season, but it's very possible New York will once again rely on a spread the wealth type of philosophy. Although it's always crucial to get after the opposing signal caller, quarterback hits may be an even more important indicator. On top of that, you always have to stop the ground game. In 2020, the Giants finished 10th against the run. f you can't slow down the run, then it's unlikely you're going to have many attractive situations to get after the quarterback because that means your opponent likely won't be facing many unfavorable third downs. That's why it starts and ends with having a strong run defense. Who fills the void left behind by Dalvin Tomlinson and how effective is the group as a whole? That's the key factor for the defense this season.

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