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20 Questions: Keys to a successful Giants season


With the calendar flipped to July, asked 20 important questions heading into the team's 2020 training camp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

For 20 days, a member of the crew answered one question about the roster, coaching staff, schedule, and much more.

No. 20: What is the key to a successful season?

Lance Medow: The Giants don't need to look far to see where they must improve in order to be a more consistent team in 2020. As a I referenced in my response to an earlier question about what stat must improve on offense, it starts with ball security. New York was tied with the Chargers for the worst turnover differential in the NFL in 2019 at minus-17. The Giants had just 16 takeaways and 33 turnovers (third-most in the league). That has to be the first priority as just one of last season's 12 playoff teams finished with a negative turnover differential: Eagles (-3). For those saying, "well minus-three isn't impressive," do the math between minus-17 and minus-three. That's a sizable difference. Turnovers and the lack of scoring go hand in hand, and that was brought to the forefront in 2019.

Last season, the Giants averaged just over 21 points per game (tied for 18th in the NFL). In nine of their 16 games, they failed to score at least 20 points. If you turn over the ball at the rate New York did last season, you're going to lose possessions/scoring opportunities. Cut down on turnovers and, perhaps, that helps increase the scoring rate, which is a must in 2020. As with every season and every team, the line will determine the true ceiling of this facet of the squad but let's not overlook health.

Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram combined to miss 17 games in 2019. Last season, the Giants didn't play one snap with those three as well as Golden Tate and Darius Slayton all on the field together. Continuity is key and that needs to be front and center this season.

Two other areas that need to improve on offense are rushing yards per game (105) and third down conversion rate (37%). Coincidentally, the Giants finished 19th in the NFL in both categories in 2019 and it's also no coincidence that a strong rushing attack is usually synonymous with manageable third downs, allowing your offense to stay on the field, which helps rest your defense.

These factors clearly go hand in hand and if the Giants can showcase better execution in that category, on both sides of the ball, it will put them in a much better position to be successful and win close games this season. On defense, they collected 36 sacks in 16 games and finished 22nd in the league. This season, they must find a way to manufacture more pressure and, most importantly, get home -- especially with a relatively young secondary. That means someone in the front seven needs to emerge and have a breakout campaign. The Giants' other issue on defense was getting off the field on third down. Opposing teams converted third downs just under 40 percent of the time, putting the Giants 20th in the league in third-down defense. If Patrick Graham's unit makes strides in both of those categories, the overall defensive efficiency will increase and it should also help the team hand the offense more at-bats/opportunities.

Lance Medow: Last season, Evan Engram was on pace for a career year. Through the first five games, he accumulated 33 receptions, 373 yards and two touchdowns. Unfortunately, the injury bug struck and Engram only appeared in three more games before being placed on injured reserve in mid-December. When you look at the Cowboys' offense during Jason Garrett's tenure, the tight end position played a prominent role in the passing game. Just take note of Jason Witten's production and the Giants have been on the wrong end of those numbers over the last decade or so.

Although Witten's stats jump off the page, the same can also be said for Blake Jarwin, who is more comparable to Engram in terms of build and athleticism. With Witten taking a backseat to Jarwin in each of the last two seasons, the latter emerged as a notable playmaker with his targets, receptions and receiving yards increasing from 2018 to 2019. Jarwin's usage and emergence are encouraging signs for Engram. In face, Dallas has an even longer track record at the position. You can go back to Garrett's playing days with the Cowboys when Jay Novacek was a key weapon during their three Super Bowl victories in the 1990s. This is yet another reason why I'm very interested to see how Garrett shapes the offense around Engram's strengths and how heavily he's involved in the passing game.

It can't be overlooked that the Pro Bowl is very much a popularity contest with fans, players and coaches each influencing the vote. That's why in order to fairly evaluate the likelihood of a player making the Pro Bowl for the first time, you have to take into consideration his competition in the conference. Philadelphia's Zach Ertz and San Francisco's George Kittle earned Pro Bowl accolades following the 2019 season and both aren't fading away anytime soon but, behind those two, there's not an overwhelming amount of proven depth. The Saints' Jared Cook is a player to watch, so is the three-headed monster (Rob Gronkowski, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard) in Tampa Bay. I'm not saying it's going to be easy for Engram because much depends on his health, but it's certainly more plausible compared to other positions where there's stiff competition.

Dan Salomone: At their core, I think Giants fans appreciate linebackers more than any other position, so this offseason was for them. Inside and outside, old and new, the team added several intriguing players to the unit.

In free agency, Blake "The Tackling Machinez" Martinez and Kyler Fackrell, who has a double-digit sack season on his resume, came over from Green Bay. In the draft, the Giants used 40 percent of their 10 picks at the position: Cam Brown (Penn State), Carter Coughlin (Minnesota), TJ Brunson (South Carolina) and Tae Crowder (Georgia). That's six new pieces right there for defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, inside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer, and outside linebackers coach/senior assistant Bret Bielema.

"I think it says a lot more about how our defensive scheme fits together, that we are going to play with a lot of linebackers throughout the game," coach Joe Judge said. "You build your defense to build two-thirds of your team, that's really your defense and your kicking game for covering kicks. These guys have a lot of impact across the board right there."

While we're on the subject, don't overlook the return of linebacker Ryan Connelly, who was on his way to being the steal of the 2019 draft. The fifth-round pick out of Wisconsin recorded 20 tackles, two interceptions and a sack in the first four games of his rookie year, but then it abruptly ended due to a torn ACL. He was also high school teammates with Coughlin in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Connelly, then the quarterback, helped the school to three Minnesota Class 6A football state championships.

That's not exactly the type of versatility that Judge has spoken about since he took over – I don't think Connelly is throwing a pass anytime soon – but the linebacker corps has a little bit of everything to make it dominant once again.

John Schmeelk: Dominance. I consider myself a realist and try to go out of my way to temper expectations on most things, in general. I'm a "regression to the mean" kind of guy. Give me a bucket and cold water and I'll find something to pour it on. I see no reason to be like this when it comes to Saquon Barkley. He is that talented and capable of putting together a special season.

I'll be so bold as to say that I would be surprised if Barkley doesn't gain 2,000 yards from scrimmage, find a way to score 10 touchdowns, or catch more than 55 passes.

Given the high frequency Jason Garrett made sure Ezekiel Elliott had the ball while they were in Dallas, I expect Barkley to be among the NFL's Top 3 running backs, based on most metrics. He is a special player and should consistently impact the game, either running the ball or catching it.

Barkley should be the centerpiece of everything the Giants do offensively and his numbers should be immense, barring injuries. I predict: 317 carries for 1,462 yards, 64 receptions for 588 yards with 12 total touchdowns.

View photos of Giants running back Saquon Barkley.

Lance Medow: I'll never choose a NFC East game because the Giants play their divisional rivals twice each season and you can essentially flip a coin when it comes to those games - every one is important and the team records make no difference. Of the 10 other games to choose from, there's one that jumps off the page for many reasons: Week 8, at home, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football.

It's a NFC game which means it carries a bit more weight when it comes to the playoff race, plus it's one of the three prime time contests on the Giants' schedule. In addition, the Giants will be coming off a lengthy rest period since their previous game is on Thursday Night Football in Philadelphia on Oct. 22. That means it will be New York's first game in 11 days. Whether that turns out to be good or bad remains to be seen. This contest also marks the midpoint of the season - the Giants will have played eight games by the time the clock expires and it will provide a solid sample size to see where the team stands.

In addition to all those factors, here's the main course. The Giants will be facing one of the best offenses in the league, led by Tom Brady, who just joined the Bucs in free agency. New York's history with Brady already provides for some intrigue, although it doesn't hurt that he'll be surrounded by a plethora of weapons, including 1,000-yard receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, versatile tight ends Rob Gronkowski, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard, and dual-threat running back Ronald Jones. You also can't overlook receivers Justin Watson and rookie Tyler Johnson - and I haven't even brought up the defense. Shaq Barrett led the NFL in sacks in 2019 with 19.5, Jason Pierre-Paul is still a dangerous force and the defensive line features big bruisers Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea. Add in linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David ... and Tampa Bay boasts one of the best front sevens in the league.

This will be quite the test for the Giants on both sides of the ball, and if last season's Week 3 matchup is any indication, the rematch shouldn't disappoint. In 2019, the Bucs ranked third in total offense (398 yard avg.), first in passing yards per game (303) and tied for third, with the Saints, in points (28.6) - all with Jameis Winston under center. Now, they've upgraded to Brady. I rest my case. Circle November 2nd.

View iconic photos from the all-time series between the Giants and their 2020 opponents.