CowboysHQ: Let's start with a quick overview for our readers. The Giants are in the second year of Ben McAdoo's offensive system and welcome back Steve Spagnuolo to coach the defense. What can we expect to see Sunday night? How are the Giants built to attack their opponents on each side of the ball?
Josh Fyffe: The Giants are fortunate to have both McAdoo and Spagnuolo as their coordinators entering the 2015 season. Assuming Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle are given the green light to start against Dallas, the scheme of the offense has taken an aggressive play calling tone. The dynamic trio of Cruz, OBJ and Randle can stretch defenses and opposing secondaries as they all possess a range of route running abilities. Shane Vereen adds a contingency plan to every aggressive passing play when he’s on the field and McAdoo has worked to make sure that this season’s playbook highlights his players’ strengths. In an interview earlier this year with us, McAdoo reiterated the construction of the offense, “It [the offense] is about the players, not the plays. We tailored it. You put some stuff out in the storage shed that you may like, but you may not get to because it doesn’t fit with who you are.” McAdoo’s theory on running an offense should allow him to squeeze the most out of his roster in 2015; and definitely feature a more aggressive tone given the talent they have to work with this year.
The defense hasn’t been functioning as smoothly in the preseason; fluctuating their performance against opponents and sustaining multiple injuries to key starters. Also arguably the most talented player on the defensive side of the ball has been MIA though out the entirety of the offseason. However, Jason Pierre-Paul is reportedly taking his medical exam this afternoon and could be participating in team meetings and catching up with coaches as soon as tomorrow. The defense has a lot more capabilities when JPP is on the field as he brings that true number one pass rusher impact that can make his line-mates and the secondary exponentially better. JPP aside, Spagnuolo will employ a rotational pass rush and will have a 4-3 defense that will rely on creating pressure to assist a depth-lacking secondary.
2) The Giants have been buried by injuries the last few years and it seems 2015 is starting out a little tough. Compared to who was projected to start after the first wave of free agency and the draft, where are the weak spots of the depth chart? Who's playing out of position? Who's not making it to the Week 1 matchup?
Josh Fyffe: The injury bug has definitely been biting the G-Men early and often this season but a majority of the damage has been mild. Pugh, Flowers, Richburg and Schwartz (four starters on the offensive line) all had brief injury stints during the preseason and are expected to start against the Dallas Cowboys. The silver-lining to this is that a lot of the offensive line got to practice out of position, which better prepares them for future injury circumstances. Cruz and Randle have both been listed as questionable and as game time decisions; Cruz is hampered with a nagging strained calf and Randle with enflamed knee tendinitis. While their status is questionable, I would say it’s more probable than not that they are active.
As for weak spots on the roster, the only position on offense that is lagging behind the herd is tight end, and it is debatable to call it a weakness. Larry Donnell will be returning as the starter once again this season after a long position battle with Daniel Fells throughout the preseason. Donnell is looking to build off of 60+ catch, 600+ yards, and 6 touchdown season he had in 2014. On the defensive side of the ball there are a few weak spots, including portions of the linebacking core and the strong safety position. Two of the starting linebackers J.T. Thomas and Kevon Dennard have compiled 4.5 sacks between the two of them for their perspective careers. Beason will be the leader of the defense and the linebacking core so hopefully he can raise their level of play. Thomas is more a tackler and a run stopper than a pass rusher though. As for the strong safety position, the Giants lost their other fellow rookie safety Mykkele Thompson to an Achilles injury earlier in the preseason and have since signed Brandon Meriweather as a suitable replacement. However it will be Cooper Taylor who will be starting this upcoming Sunday; Cooper is going into his third season and has recorded four total tackles. Rookie Landon Collins can play both FS and SS, so wherever the Giants feel they need him they can move him. But as for right now everyone is playing in the role they were initially assigned.
3) Eli Manning set record highs in completions, attempts, and completion percentage last season, while having one of his lowest career interception totals at 14. What changes have you seen in his game under McAdoo?
Josh Fyffe: While the tone of the offense is projecting to be slightly more aggressive, McAdoo’s initial priority when he came to New York was to get Eli’s completion percentage to 70, namely by sharpening his decision making skills and drawing safer routes. Manning has been more patient and decisive with his throws, and the growth of OBJ and their perspective chemistry has further propelled these traits in Eli’s game as well. Because of the way that McAdoo designs the offensive scheme, he is enabling mutually beneficial opportunities for Manning and his receiving core. Manning’s patience and decision making have been the most drastic changes in his game from when McAdoo took over a season ago.
4) Who are some surprise players that you think will show up for the team this year and what are their defining characteristics?
Josh Fyffe: I will pick two players for this; Johnathan Hankins and former Cowboy George Selvie. Hankins is entering his third season in the NFL and is only 23 years of age. A season ago he made waves notching 7 sacks as a defensive tackle and also batting down three passes. Hankins comes in a 320 pound package and certainly has the body power to shed opposing linemen. His two largest strengths are his instinctive vision, which can allow him to knife into the backfield and blow up plays at the line of scrimmage, as well as his high motor. His young age certainly feeds into his high motor, but the defensive tackle has the stamina and endurance to be a three down defensive tackle which is not easy to accomplish in the NFL. Hankins also is one of the most under-hyped players in the league, and quietly ranked number at 69 in PFF’s top 101 players for 2014.
George Selvie will certainly make less of an impact than his fellow line mate. The former Cowboy exhibited the most success in his career down in Dallas, where he recorded 10 sacks over the course of two seasons. Selvie has been praised for his drive and work ethic wherever he has gone and can definitely see some playing time earlier on this season with the mystery shrouding JPP’s and Robert Ayers’ statuses. Either way Selvie should at least see some rotational pass rush situations; a role that he has magnified into an eventual starting spot in the past. Another fun fact about the NFL journey man is that he was initially drafted to St. Louis, by former head coach Steve Spagnuolo. So he definitely has built a credible amount of trust with the current Giants’ defensive coordinator.
5) What is the current state of the Giants secondary? Is this an area of the team to feel comfortable about in 2015?
Josh Fyffe: One last areas of weakness that I was saving for this question was cornerback position. Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are both credible, but neither currently boast their initial first round talent and optimism. Also neither player is a “Darrelle Revis”-like number one corner. Behind Amukamara and DRC are Jayron Hosley and Trevin Wade, two very unexperienced NFL pros. The depth at corner can definitely be a weak spot if the Giants are forced into nickel or dime formations where they will have more than two or three corners on the field. While that lack of depth is concerning, Spagnuolo may be able to scheme his way around holding a deficient secondary.
I wouldn’t necessarily dictate the situation as one the organization feels comfortable with, but the roster is obviously in a place they believe they can win with. As stated earlier, having JPP back on the field mixed with Robert Ayers, Johnathan Hankins, and Cullen Jenkins creates a solidified front four that can force pressure and really assist a lagging secondary. Rookie Landon Collins’ development will be instrumental the success of this secondary as well, as if he progresses to a leader in the defense, the chemistry in the secondary will be able to minimize a lot of the big play ability from opposing offenses.
Bonus Question: Final Score Prediction?
Josh Flyffe: Dallas: 30 Giants: 27
While I hate to pick against the Giants, I think Dallas takes this one on a last second Dan Bailey field goal. I do think the ‘Boys and the G-Men will split games for the season, but Dallas wins round one as both defense prove that they have a lot to work on, and both offenses display their potency.