The 2016 NFL season is just around the corner. As such, Sportsnaut will be previewing all 32 teams before the games begin in September. Continuing the series, we remain in NFC East to visit the New York Giants — a team that must see its offense perform at a high level in order to rebound from a disappointing recent run.
Before we look ahead, let’s take a glance at some key developments.
New York Giants 2016 Preview
Head Coach: Ben McAdoo (first season)
Key arrivals: DE Olivier Vernon, CB Janoris Jenkins, DT Damon Harrison, LB Keenan Robinson
Key departures: DE Robert Ayers, CB Prince Amukamara, WR Rueben Randle
1. Will linebacker play be the team’s downfall?
There’s not a single linebacker on the Giants’ roster that can be considered an above-average starter. This was an issue last season. And in reality, the team failed to address it during the spring.
Adding Keenan Robinson (62 tackles in Washington last season) to compete with Jasper Brinkley at middle linebacker isn’t going to solve this problem. Add in the retirement of Jon Beason, and it’s not far-fetched to conclude that this unit has regressed from a season ago.
Devon Kennard will be competing with Mark Herzlich for snaps on the strong side. Meanwhile, J.T. Thomas, Kelvin Sheppard and Jonathan Casillas will be vying for playing time on the weak side.
The majority of these players are veterans that have not proven themselves to be worthy of regular playing time on defense.
Without a solid safety group, the larger issue here is going to be coverage between the hashes. There’s simply no one on the Giants’ defense to cover elite-level tight ends, including Washington’s Jordan Reed and Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys.
Short of someone stepping up, there’s a real possibility this could be New York’s undoing once the 2016 season gets going.
2. Can the offense make up for what will be a bad defense?
The Giants ranked sixth in the NFL in scoring last season. Despite this, the team finished with a 6-10 record. It goes without saying that the team’s defense was the primary reason for its struggles in 2015.
Without much hope of that unit improving a great deal (more on that later), the onus is going to be on New York’s offense to take that next step. In this, there is some relatively good news.
Eli Manning took well to McAdoo’s system when the first-year head coach was the team’s offensive coordinator last season. Manning put up his best statistical season, tallying 4,432 passing yards with 35 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Playing the role of the elite-level receiver he is, Odell Beckham Jr. improved off an impressive rookie campaign. He caught 96 passes for 1,450 yards and 13 scores.
With Victor Cruz healthy and after selecting Sterling Shepard (more on him below) in the second round of the 2016 NFL draft, the Giants surely have the receivers to improve off last year’s success.
That’s going to be the biggest key for this team in 2016, especially considering New York has a questionable rushing attack. And while we know the passing game should perform well, if the Giants can get something on the ground, it will be huge.
Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams return from last year’s 18th-ranked attack. They will be joined by rookie Paul Perkins, who should be given an opportunity for regular touches during the preseason.
3. Is Ben McAdoo an upgrade from Tom Coughlin?
Coughlin was the most-successful head coach in modern Giants history, even besting Bill Parcells for that honor. Though, as with everything in life, all great things must come to an end.
Despite his success in New York, the latter part of Coughlin’s tenure with the Giants was definied by lackluster overall play under-performing final products. New York missed the playoffs in each of his final four seasons and in six of his final seven campaigns with the team.
It was simply time for new blood.
That comes in the form of a highly-regarded offensive mind. McAdoo received a ton of interest as a head coach prior to ultimately deciding to stay with the Giants.
Here’s a guy that led the Giants’ offense to two consecutive top-10 finishes in his two seasons as their offensive coordinator. That came immediately after he received a ton of praise as an assistant with the Green Bay Packers for eight seasons.
McAdoo’s scheme fits exactly what Manning does well on offense. That’s to say, quick hits and a more spread-out offense. Starting in the second half of the 2014 campaign, it became clear that Manning was more comfortable running this scheme than the offense he ran under former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.
Eli Manning past 22 starts, since five interception performance against SF on 11/16/14 pic.twitter.com/5GIRoJaFPi
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) July 31, 2016
This tells us a story of a quarterback that likes his new head coach. Whether that translates to team-wide success is really anyone’s guess.
Though, it’s never a bad thing to have your franchise signal caller be comfortable within the offense he runs. The Giants’ brass found this out recently, and made sure to continue with that theme.
Sterling Shepard, wide receiver
We honestly have no idea whether Cruz will ever be the same player again. More than missing the past season and a half, the leg injury itself could limit the explosion Cruz possessed prior to going down.
This is one of the primary reasons New York exhausted a second-round pick on Shepard. The former Oklahoma standout is a near identical match in terms of what a pre-injury Cruz brought to the table.
Manning is already excited about the addition of Shepard, and the two will have time during both training camp and the preseason to build a relationship.
Already boasting pro-ready route-running skills, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Shepard perform at a high level as a rookie. And with Beckham Jr. slated to take up double teams on the other side, the opportunities will definitely be there. Look for a tremendous rookie campaign from this former Sooner.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
The Giants’ offense promises to be among the most productive in the NFL this season. If healthy, Beckham Jr., Cruz and Shepard represent one of the most-talented wide receiver trios in the NFL.
As we pointed out above, it also looks like Manning has had a career resurgence in this new offense, meaning that his performance will only improve with a healthy group of receivers.
The only real issue here is the running game. Though, New York does have the talent to put together an above-average ground game. Shane Vereen will act as the primary pass-catching back. Meanwhile, rookie Paul Perkins should give the team a spark on the ground.
New York doesn’t need an elite rushing attack. All it needs from this group is consistency. The passing game is where the Giants are going to succeed. Any type of above-average performance on the ground will only enhance this unit.
REASON TO DOUBT
Defensively, the Giants were on par with the New Orleans Saints as the worst unit in the entire NFL last season.
New York ranked dead last in total defense, 32nd against the pass and 31st in points allowed last season.
While the team did do well to add three capable starters in Oliver Vernon, Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins, none of those players are going to act as the face of a good defense.
As it stands with Jenkins, his inability to work on the outside with coverage over the top should also be a concern here.
This doesn’t even take into account the league’s worst linebacker group and a pass-rush unit that’s going to be banking on a maimed Jason Pierre-Paul for production.
New York needs to head into the 2016 season knowing that it’s going to put out a substandard product on defense. That’s pretty much not in question right now. It’s all about how the offense performs. Should that side of the ball improve, the Giants will be in decent shape.
Prediction: 7-9, tied for third place in the NFC East