A truncated offseason is not ideal for a New York Giants team introducing a brand new offensive and defensive system (and play callers), but if the first half of training camp is any indication, the offense is a lot further along than the defense. This really shouldn’t surprise anyone who has followed the team’s 2019 season and 2020 offseason movement. What might surprise fans is how quickly the offense is coming together under a new coaching staff and with so much offseason movement along the offensive line. The reports out of camp have been consistent — the offense is taking quickly to Garrett’s new system — and more specifically the offensive line is taking quickly to new position coach Marc Colombo. 

But should we really be all that surprised?

Both Garrett and Colombo found success both collectively and individually during their tenure in Dallas. This may not be the lasting narrative, specifically in Garrett’s case, but a deeper look at just his success on offense — specifically when he was Dallas’ coordinator — proves it. Fortunately, the Giants won’t have to count on Garrett to make late-game decisions and manage the clock. 

And if the Giants want to improve in 2020, they will need to tap into some of that — and in a best-case scenario — they can emerge as a watered-down version of Garett’s 2016 Cowboys. In Dak Prescott’s rookie 2016 season, the Cowboys won 13 games behind a developing (at best) defense by completely dominating and controlling the line of scrimmage on offense. Dallas dominated time of possessions, kept their defense off the field for long stretches of the game, and when they were on the field, the defense was well-rested. 

This is the blueprint first-year head coach Joe Judge and Garrett plan to bring over in 2020 — a tough, physical football team that takes a major leap on offense while dominating time of possession. That’s a lot easier said than done, but if it all does come to fruition and the early camp reports are a sign of what’s to come, well then that leads us right into our first bold prediction.

Giants turn in best O-line since ’08

The Giants have been trying to revamp and improve their offensive line for over a decade now. The reality of the situation is that former general manager Jerry Reese believed in an inside-out roster-building approach that poured countless mid and late-round picks on skill position players. He swung big (first or second round) on offensive linemen just four times in 11 draft classes and none of them were signed to a second contract. Dave Gettleman has adopted a different approach, allocating both draft and free agent capital to the line, but in spite of this, the line has continued to struggle. The Giants haven’t graded out as an above-average offensive line overall — via both Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders — since the 2008 season. We believe that unceremonious streak will come to an end in 2020.

The decision to hire Colombo as the offensive line coach will end up making a bigger impact on the unit’s success than anything else. Colombo’s impact has already been felt early in camp as players have raved about his hands-on teaching approach and the impressive work he did in his previous stint as Dallas’ offensive line coach should not be overlooked. Previously, the Giants employed Hal Hunter as offensive line coach under Pat Shurmur. Before his stint with the Giants, Hunter, a long-time friend of Shurmur’s, was out of the NFL. He has not been hired for the 2020 season.

Colombo and Garrett’s arrivals mean a change in the blocking scheme. After running a predominantly inside-zone blocking scheme under Shurmur, the 2020 Giants will mix in a heavy dosage of power and gap under Garrett and Colombo. This is excellent news for just about every offensive lineman projected to start in 2020 — all of whom fit this new scheme much better from a skill set standpoint — but specifically for third-year guard Will Hernandez. Thus far through camp, Hernandez has been one of the standouts on either side of the ball, and after a sophomore slump, it’s easy to see how improved coaching and a scheme that fits his skill set (he played in a predominantly power/gap blocking scheme at UTEP) could lead to a 2020 breakout season.

Earlier this offseason, I highlighted Hernandez as one of three Giants most likely to break out in 2020. In addition to better coaching and a blocking scheme that fits his skill set, he will benefit from playing alongside more talent in 2020. Nate Solder struggled mightily in pass protection throughout 2019 at left tackle and Spencer Pulley’s play strength was an issue all season long at center. In 2020, the Giants will use the 2020 NFL Draft’s No. 4 overall pick Andrew Thomas at left tackle and Nick Gates is already stealing first-team reps at center. With right guard Kevin Zeitler now fully healthy and free agent acquisition Cam Fleming enjoying an excellent start to camp as the first-team right tackle (and remember he had a leg up having already played in this blocking scheme with Garrett, Colombo, and the Cowboys), the offensive line is showing a lot of promise with the regular season opener less than three weeks away.

This will be the best unit up front the Giants have had since 2008.

Evan Engram leads all TEs in receiving yards

Let’s get bold. Prior to missing an Oct. 6 game against the Patriots in 2019, Engram racked up 37 targets, 27 receptions, 331 receiving yards and two touchdowns through the first four games. He sprained his MCL in the next game, returned after one missed game and sprained his foot (while possibly overcompensating for the MCL). Prior to the injuries, Engram was on pace (prorated) to finish the 2019 season with 108 receptions, 1,324 receiving yards, and eight touchdowns. Those numbers would rank him No. 1 in receptions, No. 1 in yards, and No. 3 in touchdowns among all tight ends.

Engram has since returned fully healthy after offseason surgery and has once again been one of the key contributors with Daniel Jones’ first-team offense during training camp. In Engram’s absence, former Day 3 draft pick Kaden Smith took over at tight end and immediately put up big numbers with Jones. Engram is a total mismatch for just about every linebacker, safety, or cornerback who will be matched up with him one-on-one in coverage and his ability to get open quickly meshes perfectly with Jones’ best trait as a quarterback — his ball placement in the quick passing game. Jones and Engram showed an immediate rapport — as evidenced by the 148-target pace prior to the injury — and that has carried over into training camp where a fully-healthy Engram has stood out.

When you add in the fact that Garrett’s offense has been traditionally tight end friendly and will put more of an emphasis on the vertical passing game — specifically up the seams at tight end — an area of the field Engram used his 4.42 speed to thrive at during his collegiate career at Ole Miss — Engram topping the likes Travis Kelce and George Kittle in receiving yards is not so far fetched.

Giants steal the final playoff spot in the NFC

Ok, now let’s get even bolder. The difficult schedule to start the season for the Giants (Steelers, @Bears, 49ers, @Rams, @Cowboys) has been well documented at this point, but not much is made of how the schedule opens up for the Giants after that. As they move forward with a physical offense that looks to keep the ball for long stretches behind a power running game (oh, and by the way, Saquon Barkely thrived in a power/gap blocking scheme at Penn State), they will shorten games as a result, and it will be more likely for games to be decided by one score. The bold prediction here is that Jones will take a leap in year two and play a key role in leading fourth-quarter drives to determine the outcome of these one-score games.

The Giants will make a second-half push after their bye week winning three out of four against the Bengals, Seahawks, Cardinals, and Browns before losing to the Ravens in Week 16. At this point, the Giants will play the Cowboys in Week 17 in what will end up being a must-win game for their playoff hopes. The Giants will need to defeat Dallas and get a little help from other teams. It will all come together and the Giants will grab the NFL’s brand new addition — the No. 7 seed.

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