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Keys to Victory

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3 Keys to Victory: Winning in the trenches


On Sunday, it will be 226 days since the Giants hired Brian Daboll.

In that time, the first-year head coach laid the foundation for his team, ramping up from Spring workouts to training camp to preseason. Meanwhile, the Tennessee Titans are a well-oiled machine under Mike Vrabel, making three straight playoff appearances and earning the AFC's top seed in 2021.

But what makes the NFL compelling is that each has to prove itself year in and year out.

"The years that I've been in it, no matter if it's been teams that we won the Super Bowl with or teams we weren't as good or we thought we were better, you're trying to continually look at yourself and make sure you're doing the right stuff," Daboll said. "And things you've done in training camp may look good against the team you're practicing against, which is your own team for a while. And you say, 'You know what. That's not what we need to do. We need to switch this.' Early in the season, in particular, I think I've been part of teams that were 1-3, 2-2 and won the Super Bowl. You've really got to focus on the fact that it's a players' game. And the fundamentals really need to stand out: the tackling, the catching, the decision making, the blocking, all the things you teach in individual meetings and the coordinator meetings. Those are really what's going to win or lose you the game."

Here are three ways the Giants can do the former on Sunday in Nashville:

Put hats on Derrick Henry

The Titans running back missed nine games last season but still finished ninth in the NFL with 937 yards. It was the most missed games by a player who finished in the top 10 in NFL history. Henry won the rushing triple crown (carries, yards and touchdowns) in each of his last two healthy seasons (2019-20). Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, who has been around the league for decades, called him "our modern-day Jim Brown" this week. It's fitting because the Hall of Famer is the only other player to manage the triple crown in back-to-back years since 1950.

Henry has faced the Giants just once in his career (Week 15, 2018) and carried the ball 33 times for 170 yards and two touchdowns. So, it's no secret that limiting him is the key to stopping the entire team. Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill has averaged 2.0 more pass yards per attempt with Henry on the field during his Titans career (2019-21), according to Next Gen Stats.

"Tannehill, what he does and what they do is they play to their strengths," Martindale said. "And he's a very good, maybe one of the best, play-action quarterbacks in the league today. And that's just how everything fits together. I have tons of respect for (Offensive Coordinator) Coach (Todd) Downing and Vrabs. And they know who they are going into it, and Tannehill can run that offense like no other."

Start the game fast, start the season fast

The Giants' Week 1 woes are well-documented, but it's a new era. Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen came over from a Bills team that outscored opponents 102-37 in the first quarter last season, the best differential in the NFL. The second-best was the Kansas City Chiefs (plus-64), whose former quarterbacks coach (Mike Kafka) is now the Giants' offensive coordinator and play-caller.

In 2021, nine of the 14 teams that reached the playoffs won in Week 1. Since 1990 (32 consecutive seasons), at least four teams every season have qualified for the postseason after missing the postseason the year before.

Communication is key for revamped O-line

Daboll served on the Patriots' coaching staff when Vrabel played there as a linebacker. "He kind of was one step ahead of everybody," Daboll recalled this week. "He kind of knew what the offense was doing quite a bit."

As head coach, Vrabel knows how to scheme against offenses as well as anybody. Last year, Tennessee finished tied for ninth in sacks and allowed the second-fewest rushing yards per game (Martindale's Ravens were first). The Titans also allowed the fewest big runs and fifth-fewest total big plays (10+). In other words, it will be a good test for the Giants' revamped offensive line. The only incumbent starter from the 2021 opener is left tackle Andrew Thomas.

"I'm comfortable with the players," Daboll said of the new group. "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."

View photos from practice as the Giants prepare for the season opener against the Titans.

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