Expectations are low for the New York Giants heading into the 2018 season. A year ago, the team was being called â€œChampionship Caliberâ€ and they were the â€œsexyâ€ pick among many prognosticators to be the NFC representative in the NFLâ€™s Big Game.
But Big Blue came up small last season for a variety of reasons and finished with a dismal 3-13 record. In 2018, they appear to face long odds and numerous challenges as they begin their quest to go from worst to first in the NFC East.
What will it take for the New York Giants to be in the playoff mix in the year ahead?
One thing is certain, there are plenty of hurdles they will need to overcome in order to be part of the NFLâ€™s final 12 when the regular season comes to an end.
Above and beyond everything else, for the Giants to have any chance of success in 2018 they will need to avoid injuries at key positions. Last year the Giants suffered catastrophic injuries that derailed their offense and sent an already struggling team spiraling out of control.
The defense didnâ€™t go unscathed, but when high-profile players and expected key contributors like Odell Beckham, Jr. (season ending), Brandon Marshall (season ending), Dwayne Harris (season ending) and Sterling Shepard all go down to injury in the same week, itâ€™s difficult to set expectations very high the rest of the way. Add to that injuries across an already inconsistent offensive line, and the Giants were doomed to struggle mightily on offense for much of 2017. If the team is to make any legitimate run at the playoffs this year, staying healthy is absolutely imperative.
Running the football has been an exercise in futility for the Giants since the days of Ahmad Bradshaw and continues to be one of the biggest hurdles the Giants will need to overcome as they head into the 2018 season. A lack of consistent run blocking and a limited talent pool at the position has been a major roadblock in opening up the offense for Big Blue ever since their last Super Bowl appearance.
Number two overall draft pick Saquon Barkley is an immensely talented back out of Penn State who is being touted as a potential Hall of Famer by General Manager Dave Gettleman. His ability to make defenders miss both as a runner and receiver out of the backfield should provide the Giants with the sorely missed run game the team hasnâ€™t had in years.
Barkley will need to deliver in his first year for the Giants to have any chance of success. His skills should impact the offense in a range of ways, as his presence in the backfield will require attention by defensive coordinators and will presumably open more space for the Giants talented receiving trio of Beckham, Shepard and tight-end Evan Engram.
There is hope, too, that the revamped offensive line will create more consistency in both run blocking and pass protection. The addition of a talented road-grader, rookie Will Hernandez, at guard is evidence of the teamâ€™s efforts toward improving the rushing attack.
Besides Hernandez, the Giants may feature a new offensive lineman at every position heading into 2018. A new left tackle (Nate Solder), two new guards (Hernandez and Patrick Omameh), Ereck Flowers with a new position at right tackle, and the possibility of Jon Halapio unseating Brett Jones at center would give the team new starters at all five offensive line positions. There are hurdles to overcome anytime a new offensive line comes together. With so many changes, this could be the most daunting task the team will face in 2018.
Not only is it vital that this new line gels and improves collectively as run blockers, but equally important is the need for the unit to overcome the next hurdle: improving pass protection for the quarterback. Eli Manning is, of course, the uncontested starting quarterback for the New York Giants heading into 2018. Â At 37 years old, keeping him upright and injury-free must be the top priority if this team has any hopes or aspirations of being a playoff contender this year. The new look offensive line will be faced with a number of challenges, not the least of which will be protecting their two-time Super Bowl MVP.
The performance of Eli Manning, the addition of Saquon Barkley, and the new offense being implemented by headcoach Pat Shurmur and offensive coordinator Mike Shula will directly influence the Giants ability to overcome what has been an embarrassing lack of offensive production over the teamâ€™s past two season.
Despite having one of the most dynamic and talented wide receivers in the league, the Giants have consistently fielded an anemic offensive, even during their 2016 playoff year. Â Alarmingly, this team has a current streak of failing to score 30 points or more that spans 33 consecutive games (including the playoff loss in Green Bay to end the 2016 season). Simply finding ways to score more points is yet another hurdle the team must overcome to be successful in 2018.
This season, the offense figures to be very different in terms of personnel, scheme and philosophy from the recent years of Ben McAdoo as both Shurmur and Shula will work together to inject new life, creativity and diversification into what had become a largely predictable and one-dimensional system as put into place by the previous regime.
With the addition of Barkley, the new offensive line, the return to health of OBJ and the influences of the new headcoach and offensive coordinator, this team would appear to have the tools at hand to end this marathon streak of offensive disappointment. Doing so will be necessary if the Giants want to have a shot at returning to the postseason.
In addition to diversification of personnel groupings and being more creative in terms of play calling, other ways the Giants can improve offensive production is by making better use of the play-action pass (one of Eliâ€™s biggest strengths) and by throwing downfield more (another strength of Eli, historically speaking).
Whether the aging veteran is currently â€œin declineâ€ or not can be argued and debated. Â Thereâ€™s certainly evidence to support the idea that age may be catching up with him. But the addition of a high-caliber rusher, the expectation of a bit more time in the pocket courtesy of the new look offensive line, and the ability to craft an offense that caters more to some of the quarterbackâ€™s biggest strengths may just be what is needed to generate a career resurgence for Eli Manning.
Of course, offense isnâ€™t the only unit of the team that needs to overcome hurdles. Two of the biggest challenges the defense will face in 2018 under the guidance of new defensive coordinator James Bettcher will be limiting/stopping opposing tight-ends and also finding ways to generate sacks and pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Predicted to be stout upfront, the Giants should be superior at stopping the run in 2018 with Damon â€œSnacksâ€ Harrison, second year player Dalvin Tomlinson and rookie defensive lineman BJ Hill doing the heavy lifting. The hope is that a newly revamped linebacking corps led by the addition of Alec Ogletree will go a long way toward providing improved coverage against most tight-ends across the middle of the field.
Still unsettled at safety alongside Pro Bowler Landon Collins, together with the linebackers, this unit will be key to stopping what had been a free-for-all by tight-ends around the league who feasted on the Giants porous interior defense in 2018.
For now, it appears that generating sacks and pressure will largely have to come by way of scheme, as the big men upfront are well known for their run stuffing prowess but not as much for their pass rushing ability. With the departure of longtime Giant Jason Pierre-Paul to Tampa Bay and the shifting of Olivier Vernon over from defensive end to linebacker, the team seems to be entering the season with the biggest question marks in terms of pass rush in recent memory. The addition of free agent linebacker Connor Barwin does add experience and another respected veteran locker room presence, which should help.
But Bettcher uses motion and alignments to trick opposing quarterbacks into making incorrect reads. Sometimes showing blitzes where defenders drop back into coverage, other times sending five, six or even seven pass rushers. The new defensive coordinator will have to be especially creative if the Giants are to overcome this particular hurdle. Failure to bring pressure will create long days for the teamâ€™s already questionable defensive backfield, which struggled mightily throughout most of 2017 – both on and off the field.
Finally, the Giants will need to straighten out (and frankly, figure out) their special teams. A competition will get underway to decide the new team punter once camp begins, while current placekicker Aldrick Rosas will have to demonstrate significant improvement or else risk losing his job to what will likely be a veteran journeyman kicker not yet on the roster.
The Giants hope to see improvement in return and coverage areas, as well, with the addition of special teams ace and safety Michael Thomas and the return to health of longtime backup linebacker and special teamer Mark Herzlich. Games are won and lost in three phases, it often has been said: offense, defense and special teams. For the Giants to succeed in 2018, special teams can no longer continue to be a liability.
Clearly, the New York Giants enter the 2018 season with many problems to correct and hurdles to overcome. A team doesnâ€™t earn a 3-13 record without having its fair share of challenges. Overcoming these and other hurdles will set the team on a path back toward respectability and – maybe – even a trip back to the postseason.