The Giants got back to the playoffs last season and their defensive turnaround was the biggest reason for their return.
They signed defensive end Olivier Vernon, defensive tackle Damon Harrison and cornerback Janoris Jenkins and saw those players team with defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and defensive player of the year candidate Landon Collins to form their steeliest defense in years.
All of those players are back after Pierre-Paul signed a new deal with the team this offseason and Collins may be poised for another move up the ladder of best safeties in the league, which provides a strong foundation for the Giants’ chances of making it two postseason appearances in a row.
Whether they get there or not will have a lot to do with the other side of the ball.
Biggest positive change: After years of being the best part of the team, the Giants offense slipped behind the defense last season. In order to remedy that, the team released Victor Cruz and signed Brandon Marshall after the veteran was dismissed by the Jets.
Marshall gives Eli Manning a big target across from Odell Beckham, something that’s been missing in recent years and something that should come in handy in the red zone. They also used a first-round pick on tight end Evan Engram, who has the potential to improve another weak spot although it has taken many tight ends more than one year to find their footing at the professional level.
Biggest negative change: The most notable departure from last year’s team was defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who left for the Colts and opens up a spot next to Damon Harrison on the Giants’ defensive line. They’ll need to find the right answer there, but the overall strength of the defense makes it easier to live with Hankins’ exit.
The most negative change, then, was the shift from the urgency the Giants showed in fixing the defense last year to the passive approach that the team took to their offensive line. Prices were high in free agency and the draft was short on sure things, but signing D.J. Fluker feels like an unlikely way to turn one of last year’s biggest weaknesses into a strength.
Coaching thermometer: The Giants have generally been resistant to making coaching changes and, unless they are sticklers for fashion and hairstyle choices, there was little about Ben McAdoo’s first season in the top job suggests that will be changing. He returned the team to the playoffs for the first time since they won the Super Bowl after the 2011 season and his history as an offensive coordinator gives reason to believe he’ll find a way to elicit better results from that unit.
We’d like to crack a beer with … Odell Beckham. Beckham’s been under a microscope for most of the last two seasons thanks to on-field productivity, emotional outbursts, absence from offseason work, upcoming contract extension, boat trips before playoff losses and other things of varying importance. Getting his view on all of that might take more than one beer, so we’ll go ahead and bring a whole case.
How they can prove us wrong: If the Giants rise higher, it will almost certainly be because their patience with the offensive line pays off with improvement across the board on that side of the ball. On the other hand, lack of improvement from that group could stifle any hopes of a rebound in the run game and mitigate any advantages they may have gained by adding Marshall. That would leave the Giants putting the same pressure on their defense while navigating a schedule short on soft patches.