The revamped New York Giants defense will have a tough task on its hands when it faces the Pittsburgh Steelers in the season opener.
In a little under 14 weeks, the New York Giants‘ 2020 season will begin when they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in a Monday Night Football matchup at MetLife Stadium.
Of course, the training camp and preseason periods will precede that event, but we won’t be able to truly assess the Giants’ potential until the regular season’s commencement.
There are many reasons why the Giants only won 12 games combined from 2017-19, and several of them have to do with the defensive side of the ball. This is why general manager Dave Gettleman signed key free agents like cornerback James Bradberry and linebacker Blake Martinez. He also used his second-round draft pick (No. 36 overall) to select Alabama safety Xavier McKinney.
Gettleman feels confident that these additions will improve a group that ranked 25th in total defense last season. Nonetheless, the Steelers offense will provide a good first test to see how much better the Giants defense is.
Here’s what to keep an eye on when Big Blue’s defensive unit faces the Steelers offense.
Are the Giants finally able to cover tight ends?
It’s hard to remember when the Giants were last able to efficiently cover opposing tight ends. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, whose 2019 season lasted just six quarters due to an elbow injury, will look to involve tight end Vance McDonald and the newly acquired Eric Ebron in the offense.
In 2018, when Roethlisberger played all 16 games, McDonald caught 50 passes for 610 yards and four touchdowns. While a member of the Indianapolis Colts that same season, Ebron recorded career highs in receptions (66), receiving yards (750), and receiving touchdowns (13) when catching passes from Andrew Luck.
The responsibility of stopping McDonald and Ebron will fall on McKinney, fellow safety Jabrill Peppers, and the linebackers. Week 1 will be a good barometer on how well the Giants will be able to cover that position group in 2020.
How will the front seven fare against an elite offensive line?
Gettleman spent much of the offseason addressing the Giants front seven. He gave Leonard Williams the franchise tag and then placed the unrestricted free agent tender on Markus Golden. On top of that, he signed linebackers Kyler Fackrell and Martinez and additionally drafted four individuals within that same position group — Cam Brown, Carter Coughlin, T.J. Brunson, and Tae Crowder.
During Week 1, New York will face one of the best offensive lines in the league, as guard David DeCastro and center Maurkice Pouncey were both voted to the Pro Bowl last season.
With the investment Gettleman has made to the front seven in his tenure as general manager, you’d expect the Giants to have a solid unit that can win the competition at the line of scrimmage.
The battle between the Giants defensive front and the Steelers offensive line will be intriguing to watch.
Will James Bradberry shadow JuJu Smith-Schuster?
JuJu Smith-Schuster’s production dropped dramatically with the loss of Roethlisberger and the departure of Antonio Brown. But he’s still Pittsburgh’s best wide receiver and someone Roethlisberger will rely on in 2020.
The Giants employ a new No. 1 corner in Bradberry. That specific addition is becoming even more significant with the uncertainty of DeAndre Baker and his armed robbery charges.
We’re a long way from the season opener, but there’s a good chance Bradberry will follow Smith-Schuster. This will be the former Carolina Panther’s first chance to show Giants fans that he has the ability to shut down the opposing teams’ best receiver.