It's been over half a year since GM Joe Schoen and Coach Brian Daboll were brought in to turn things around for the Giants. After a long wait, the regular season is finally here as the Giants open up the 2022 season with a road contest against the Tennessee Titans this Sunday.
The Giants went 2-1 in the preseason, defeating the New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals before falling to the New York Jets in the finale. The team's starters only saw limited action in those three games, so the Week 1 matchup will serve as the first real opportunity for the Giants to showcase their new offensive and defensive systems, led by OC Mike Kafka and DC Wink Martindale.
Here are five storylines to follow in Week 1:
1. Daboll/Kafka offense debut
There's no denying the Giants offense struggled in 2021 and it played a big role in Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka being brought in from Buffalo and Kansas City, respectively, to help transform the unit.
Although it was only a limited sample size, the offense put up a good performance during the preseason. The Giants finished the three-game slate ranked first in the NFL in total yards (382.7) and passing yards (279.0) per game. They also finished at the top of the NFC in passing attempts (143), completion percentage (71.3 percent) and fewest sacks allowed (three).
Two of the most important pieces to the offense's success this year are quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley. After they missed some time during the 2021 campaign, both players enter the season healthy and ready to do whatever it takes to help the team win.
"I think it's a versatile system.," Jones said Tuesday. "I think it allows the quarterback to do a lot in the pocket, outside the pocket, in the run game. It allows us to get into advantageous looks depending on what the defense does, easily getting in and out of plays. I think from all those perspectives, it's very quarterback friendly for any quarterback. I've certainly enjoyed working with (Coach Daboll)…
"He's just always thinking, he's always thinking about a new way to run this play or a new way to motion something or shift something or set it up – and that's constant with him. It's in the cafeteria, it's through the hallways, obviously in meeting rooms. He's always thinking, coming up with new ideas. That's been fun, you learn a lot that way as I am learning the system, but also the way he thinks about football, how he sees offense and setting us up to be successful. It's been fun working with him."
View photos from practice as the Giants prepare for the season opener against the Titans.
2. Who starts at left guard on the revamped O-line?
It was clear upon Joe Schoen's arrival that bolstering the offensive line was one of his top priorities. The Giants signed several veteran linemen in free agency before they added a few more in the draft. Of the nine offensive linemen currently on the 53-man roster, only Andrew Thomas, Ben Bredeson and Devery Hamilton are returning from last year's squad, with Thomas as the only incumbent starter.
With Shane Lemieux on injured reserve for at least the first four games, the starting left guard position is up for grabs. On the first unofficial depth chart of the regular season, Bredeson manned the spot with rookie Joshua Ezeudu behind him. Bredeson was the team's highest graded linemen in the preseason with his 88.8 overall grade from PFF, including an elite 91.5 grade on 23 run block snaps, against the Patriots
"I'm comfortable with the players," Daboll said about the O-line. "They've been working hard. Everybody that we put out there, I'm comfortable with. That's why they're on the team. I'd say that you're never comfortable going into a game ever. You're always trying to cross your 'T's and dot your 'I's, and they have a very good defensive front, and we're going to have to play really well."
The Giants got strong performances from the starters during the preseason. Jon Feliciano (82.2), Mark Glowinski (82.1) and Andrew Thomas (80.8) all received strong pass block grades. Feliciano (22 pass block snaps) and Thomas (21 pass block snaps) did not surrender a single pressure, while Glowinski surrendered just one hurry on 37 pass block snaps. Meanwhile, Evan Neal received a 95.8 pass blocking efficiency on his 37 snaps in pass protection.
3. Latest on Kayvon, Azeez & other injuries
The status of outside linebackers Kayvon Thibodeaux (knee) and Azeez Ojulari (leg) remain up in the air heading into the season opener. Daboll didn't have an update regarding their availability for the game, but both were limited participants at Wednesday's practice.
"I've been rehabbing. It's day to day right now," Thibodeaux said on Tuesday. "I've just been working, trying to get better to get back in shape and get it going... I've just got to be able to practice. If you don't practice, you don't play. Me just being able to get out there, get some work and do everything that I need to do the time I need to get my job done."
In addition to the two outside linebackers, it remains to be seen if wide receiver Sterling Shepard will suit up in Nashville. Shepard is recovering from last year's Achilles injury and was also listed as a limited participant on Wednesday's injury report, along with rookie safety Dane Belton.
Injury Report 9/7
Limited: OLB Kayvon Thibodeaux (Knee), OLB Azeez Ojulari (Calf), WR Sterling Shepard (Achilles), S Dane Belton (Clavicle)
4. Rookies debut in prominent roles on depth chart
As a reminder, the unofficial depth chart is always subject to change. It simply serves as a guide, more so for the media than the coaches. That being said, the first depth chart of the regular season featured a couple of rookies in prominent roles.
Evan Neal will start at right tackle, which is hardly a surprise after the Giants selected him with the No. 7 overall pick. Wan'Dale Robinson (No. 43 overall) is listed as one of the starting wide receivers, while Daniel Bellinger (No. 112) is the starter at tight end. Additionally, Joshua Ezeudu (No. 67) is on the depth chart as the backup at both left tackle and left guard.
On the defensive side of the ball, only Kayvon Thibodeaux (No. 5) is currently listed in the starting lineup. However, he is not the only rookie that could have a key role on the defense early in the season. Following the release of Blake Martinez, Micah McFadden (No. 146) is in competition for one of the starting inside linebacker positions after his strong preseason performance.
Dane Belton (No. 114), who missed the entire preseason with an injury, is also listed as the backup to both Xavier McKinney and Julian Love, while Cor'Dale Flott (No. 81) is the backup at all three cornerback positions.
5. Scouting the Titans
It's pretty clear the Titans offense revolves around Derrick Henry. Henry has been perhaps the best running back in the NFL over the last few seasons. He rushed for 1,540 yards and 16 touchdowns, with an average of 5.1 yards per carry, in 2019. The following year, he put up a jaw-dropping 2,027 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground, with averages of 5.4 yards per carry and 126.7 yards per game, on his way to being named Offensive Player of the Year. A foot injury derailed Henry's 2021 campaign, but not before he picked up 937 yards and 10 touchdowns in just eight games. Coach Brian Daboll knows that slowing down the talented, bruising running back will be one of the biggest priorities for the defense.
"It's well documented what he's done so far. He's just a really good football player," Daboll said. "I know him as a person, too. I met him down a few times in Alabama. Got a ton of respect for him as a man and certainly as a player. He's one heck of a player. You name it, he can do it…
"We're going to have to have all hands-on deck and do the best job we can of running to the football and gang tackling, and you even see him on plays, he might have three or four guys on him, and somehow, he squirts through. He's just a unique player. He's very, very good."
On the other side of the ball, the Titans have a couple of outstanding defenders coming off All-Pro seasons, one up front and one in the secondary. DL Jeffery Simmons registered 8.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, 16 quarterback hits and 62 total pressures in this third season last year on his way to being named second-team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler.
Then there is S Kevin Byard, who is coming off a stellar 2021 campaign. Byard was selected to his second career Pro Bowl and was named first team All-Pro for the second time. He recorded five interceptions, 13 passes defensed, two forced fumbles, two defensive touchdowns and 88 total tackles (57 solo) and didn't miss a game. His 90.4 overall grade and 90.9 coverage grade from PFF were the highest grades among all safeties, while his 83.8 run defense grade was also among the top marks at the position.
View rare photos of the all-time history between the New York Giants and Tennessee Titans.