Way back when the Broncos 2021 schedule was released, it was hard to look at the New York Giants without acknowledging the similarities between Denver’s week one opponent and themselves. Like the G-men, the Broncos had a third year quarterback entering a make or break season surrounded by a promising supporting cast and a talented defense. Both teams had decision makers on the hot seat and looked like they’d need a quick start to fend off the vultures.
Now that we’re three days away from kickoff, it’s hard to ignore how teams look like they’re headed in different directions. Knock on wood because after a 2020 campaign defined by a plague of injuries, the Broncos look like they should hit Sunday relatively healthy. Meanwhile the Giants injury report looks like a honey-do list. The Denver Broncos also benched their 2019 draftee as Vic Fangio decided to trust his fate in the hands of Teddy Bridgewater.
I’ll admit this is the most confident I’ve been in a Broncos week one game in years, but to combat my hubris I thought it best to hear from a film guru who knows the Giants backwards. Fortunately, Big Blue Views Nick Falato was gracious enough to help.
1st and 10
Before Teddy Bridgewater won the starting job it was easy to look at the Giants and see a sort of alternate version of the Broncos in New York. Where do you land on Daniel Jones, and how important is this season opener for him?
Falato: The range of opinions on Daniel Jones is wide. Many outside of the Giants’ bubble believe he’s a terrible quarterback, and many within the bubble believe he can be a really good starter in the league - I fall somewhere in the middle. I graded eight Duke games of Daniel Jones from his senior season before the draft, and I came away with a mid-second round grade on him. So, when the Giants selected him at six, I wasn’t ecstatic.
However, context is essential. Jones hasn’t received the best support since arriving in the NFL. He showed a lot of intriguing traits within Pat Shurmur’s offense during his rookie campaign, but 12 interceptions and 18 fumbles don’t inspire hope. He’s been in two systems in as many years, and his offensive line has been an absolute mess in both seasons.
In the last two seasons, three Giants’ tackles finished in the top ten of pressures allowed. Andrew Thomas ranked second last year with 58, and Nate Solder was first in the previous year with 56. Like most stats, pressures are collective, and some blame should be given to Jones, but the tackles have been a huge issue for this Giants’ team for several years now.
On this 4 game winning streak, Andrew Thomas has allowed 5 pressures and one sack...— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) December 7, 2020
In the previous 8 weeks, he allowed 39 pressures and 5 sacks - progress #giants
The interior offensive line hasn’t been much better. 2018 UDFA OT out of Nebraska, Nick Gates, has successfully transitioned to center and is now a captain - that’s great. However, the 34th pick in the 2018 draft Will Hernandez, has underwhelmed. The Giants hope he can successfully transition to the right side. 2020 fifth-round selection Shane Lemieux was arguably one of the worst starting guards in pass protection last season, and he’s dealing with a partially torn patellar tendon. Somehow, he intends to play.
The situation around Jones hasn’t been great, but he hasn’t always helped his case. His processing pre to post-snap isn’t always crisp; he can lock onto number one reads a bit too long, and he gets careless with the football at the most inopportune times. He stabilized after the Monday Night Football debacle against the inevitable Super Bowl champions last season, but the hamstring injury quelled the progress.
A truncated offseason in a new offense didn’t help Jones, nor did Jason Garrett’s play-calling, route concepts, and overall philosophy, but there were signs of improvement. Statistically, Jones only threw 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on one of the least explosive offenses in the league.
Jones has success against man coverage and the blitz...love what he does on the Tate TD— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) October 23, 2020
Sees the SS and calls the blitz out right before the snap, signifying MC. Then he uses his eyes to force the MOF safety to the boundary.
FBI + eye manipulation + quality throw = success pic.twitter.com/Nn89QetM4n
However, he manipulated safeties with his eyes in a more effective manner. He also maneuvered the pocket well down the stretch of the season, and he was able to create explosive plays with his legs. He’s an exceptional athlete with a lot of burst and speed. His deep ball touch is underrated, but he doesn’t possess an elite arm - it’s an average NFL arm, but he can still make far-hash throws with solid velocity.
Giants’ fans hope the off-season additions of Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, and a healthy Saquon Barkley will allow Jones to grow within the second season in this Garrett offense. People liken Josh Allen’s third-year jump to Daniel Jones - I would not fall near that category. I think Jones is a player that could win in the league if he’s in an ideal situation. It doesn’t appear that the Giants are in that situation.
There are too many questions along the offensive line and with the offensive coordinator who didn’t do a great job maximizing yards after the catch last season. Jones has talent, but he needs a better environment to succeed in the NFL consistently. To me, he’s not a quarterback that can “put the team on his back.” Could he take significant strides in year three - absolutely, but to compare him to Josh Allen is a stretch.
2nd and 3
One of the big x-factors heading into the game is going to be availability. As I write this Noah Fant and Bradley Chubb’s status for the game is in some question. New York’s dealing with even more questions after Barkley, Engram, Golladay, and others got banged up in the preseason. How bad is the injury situation, and who do you expect to play?
Falato: The injury situation has been pretty bad surrounding the Giants since the start of training camp. Luckily, it appears that Adoree’ Jackson’s ankle injury wasn’t serious, so he should be next to James Bradberry as a starter, forming a really strong duo at cornerback - Bradberry ranked third in the NFL last season by allowing 0.7 yards per coverage snap; he was only behind the Rams’ Jalen Ramsey and the Packers’ Jaire Alexander.
Both off-season wide receiver acquisitions Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney missed most of training camp - that’s never a good sign. It appears they will both be available to play. This Giants’ regime is very conservative with injuries. Golladay’s presence as an “X” receiver in Garrett’s offense is incredibly important.
Garrett has always had a true “X” receiver who lines up on the line of scrimmage, traditionally on the backside of formations. Think back to Terrell Owens, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, etc. The Giants attempted to utilize WR Darius Slayton in this role last season, and it was a bit much for the second-year fifth-round pick out of Auburn.
I am curious to see the implementation and role of Kadarius Toney. Teams don’t typically select players in the first round without a plan, so Toney’s involvement is interesting and somewhat of a mystery due to his lack of availability this off-season. We’ll see how Jason Garrett balances this offense that featured a lot of 12/13 personnel last season, with wide receivers that include Golladay, Toney, Sterling Shepard, and Darius Slayton.
I’m also optimistic about Saquon Barkley. I believe he’ll play; he may not see his full complement of snaps, so prepare to see former Bronco Devantae Booker. Barkley’s presence would be a huge help for the offense as a whole.
Evan Engram hurt his calf in the 22-20 week three preseason loss to the Patriots. I’m starting to doubt his availability which leaves the Giants thin at tight end, especially since third-string tight end Kaden Smith is also dealing with a small injury. This leaves Kyle Rudolph, who was recently removed from the PUP, as the lone tight end on the roster, albeit I expect Smith to play.
The Giants lost tight ends Levine Toilolo, Cole Hikutini, and Rysen John through training camp and the preseason. The depth at tight end has been a concern. The Giants will also be without their third and fourth-round picks, CB Aaron Robinson and EDGE Elerson Smith. Robinson is overcoming a core muscle injury that landed him on the PUP. He missed all of training camp, and Smith injured his hamstring with the team. Smith is now on the I.R.
All teams are dealing with injuries; it’s a part of the game. I’m happy to see some players return, but the missed time will be felt as well.
3rd and 2
On this side of the game, what matchups look favorable for the Giants? How do you expect New York to attack the Broncos?
Falato: Josey Jewell is well aware of Saquon Barkley from the devastating 21-19 nail-biting loss back in 2017, right? For real, though, it’s Barkley’s first game back from a severe injury; he’s going to be limited. The Giants did a solid job with their rushing attack late last season. Garrett employs a nice combination of inside zone and power/gap concepts.
Last year’s offense’s staple rushing play was a GH counter run where the backside guard kicks out the EMOLOS, and the H-Back, typically Kaden Smith, locates the scraping linebacker. The giants had success with this run in multiple tight end sets, and the run blocking on this team is solid - much better than the pass protection. The return of Mike Purcell can pose some problems to the interior offensive line. Still, if the Giants can run the football effectively, they can hopefully work the play-action passing attack.
I’m hoping to see Jones become better as a play-action passer, and I am hoping to see Jason Garrett add more creative wrinkles to his offense. I am not overly optimistic about the Giants’ offense, but if Golladay is healthy, he could potentially take advantage of Patrick Surtain II’s first-game jitters.
I also feel tight end Kyle Rudolph may be more involved than many speculate if he’s fully healthy and up to speed. This may seem more obvious now with the Engram injury, but Rudolph is a better fit than Engram in this Garrett offense. They’re almost the anthesis of each other. Engram is a better athlete than he is a football player at this moment, unfortunately, and Rudolph is a sure-handed nuanced route runner who lacks dynamic athletic ability.
The Giants are going to attempt and slow down the Broncos pass rush. There will be a lot of running the ball, a lot of quick game concepts, and some 1st & 10 deep shots off play-action. Jason Garrett generally calls the offense to get ten yards in three plays. There will be an end-around or two; maybe a trick play here or there, but there will be many on-schedule types of plays designed to get the Giants into 3rd & manageable. I wouldn’t expect a lot of five-step drops, and Garrett’s game plan will be centralized around limiting turnovers and mitigating the impact of Chubb and Miller.
All of TE Kyle Rudolph's touchdowns from the last three seasons pic.twitter.com/ln2FJbysq6— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) March 18, 2021
4th and inches
What areas look like weaknesses the Broncos can exploit?
Falato: The Giants’ offensive line as a whole can certainly be exploited. This can happen in a variety of different ways. Chubb and Miller can win their one-on-one matchups against Thomas and Solder, but Fangio can utilize stunts/twists to manipulate the Giants’ protections. Lemieux is going to attempt and play on this injury - that may not be successful. This will force either Billy Price or Ben Bredeson into live-action less than two weeks after being traded to the Giants.
My biggest concern by far is this offensive line, and that’s where the Broncos can earn a road victory. The Giants’ defensive front is stout; last year, opponents rushed the interior gaps only 41.9% of all the rushes the Giants faced - that’s the lowest rate in the NFL since 2017, according to Football Outsiders. This was, in part, because of the massive personnel groupings Graham would employ on running downs. Graham used a lot of tite fronts with Dalvin Tomlinson as the nose technique, Leonard Williams as a 3-technique, and Dexter Lawrence as a 4i-technique, usually to the field or strong side of the formation.
This tite formation forced runs to spill outside to force/contain defenders, usually outside linebackers and secondary force defenders in cornerbacks. It forced running backs to run east to west rather than north to south, allowing linebackers like Blake Martinez to clean up in pursuit. Martinez ranked third in the NFL with 151 combined tackles and was tied with Alexander Johnson of the Broncos at third in STOPS with 58.
The Giants’ defense surprised many in 2020, as they matured into a top ten overall scoring unit (ranked 9th in points allowed). Patrick Graham left his coordinating job in Miami to join Joe Judge as the Giants’ defensive coordinator. Graham extracted the best seasons out of defensive lineman Leonard Williams, linebacker Blake Martinez, cornerback James Bradberry, and safety Jabrill Peppers.
The Giants defense ranked 12th in yards allowed (349), 11th in rushing yards allowed (111.4), and 16th in passing yards allowed (237.9). Big Blue had 40 sacks, which was tied with the Indianapolis Colts at twelfth in the league. Graham played a heavy zone coverage defense. He forced teams to nickel and dime, which would result in third-down opportunities where Graham would employ a diverse set of trap coverages (Slice, Inverted C-2, ETC.) and/or bring the heat from a variety of different locations.
The secondary is revamped and was very underrated last season.
Graham extracted the best seasons from defensive lineman Leonard Williams, linebacker Blake Martinez, cornerback James Bradberry, and safety Jabrill Peppers. Last year, the cornerback #2 behind Bradberry was Isaac Yiadom, who was just traded to the Green Bay Packers for CB Josh Jackson. Yiadom was adequate in zone but couldn’t athletically keep up in man coverage, which prevented Graham from digging into his bag of tricks. I expect more man coverage from the Giants if the personnel can proves successful execution.
The Broncos’ skilled position players aren’t slouches either, so this should be an entertaining matchup. I would also pay attention to 2nd/3rd & manageable five-man pressure packages featuring Jabrill Peppers.
Do you have any predictions for the game?
Falato: I wouldn’t be shocked if either team won. The Giants are capable of winning this game. Their defense is good enough to stifle Teddy Bridgewater. Still, this Giants offensive line is a significant liability that can result in turnovers that lead to short fields for the Broncos offense. If I had to give a score, I would go 20-16 Broncos, but I don’t feel comfortable. The range of outcomes is large for both of these teams, and that’s why we love week one of the NFL.
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