Team Giants


Special Report

Sent: 08-17-17

Dave Klein was the Giants' beat writer for The Star-Ledger from 1961 to 1995.
He is the author of 26 books and he is one of only three sportswriters to have covered all the Super Bowls. Dave has allowed TEAM GIANTS to reprint some of his articles.


By Aaron Klein

While the Giants toil through summer workouts - training camp wraps up this week - there is still plenty of work to be done, especially along the offensive line, in the running game and at backup quarterback, among other key pressure points on the depth chart.

Because the Giants feel that they have more than a good chance to win the NFC East division and possibly go deep into the post-season (further?), there are 16 games in their way, six of which are against division rivals.

Why don't we take a look at what the NFC East opponents have been up to so far this summer?

Here we go...

First off, it looks like stud running back Ezekiel Elliott will miss the Week One game with the Giants as he's been given a six-game suspension due to a domestic violence investigation. While Elliott has filed a formal appeal (to be heard Aug. 29), odds are that the suspension won't be erased and even if the NFL reduces the number of games, it won't be for the first week.

However, even without Elliott, the Cowboys have two other running backs - Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden - who can take over, at least for a while.

Questions to be answered: Besides the Elliott suspension, there are other issues confronting the Cowboys. Dallas is anxious to see how quarterback Dak Prescott shows in his second season. While he had a fine season in 2016 in place of injured (now retired) Tony Romo, it will be interesting to see if he suffers a sophomore slump ... and how his performance will be tied to that of receiver Dez Bryant as well as Elliott, whenever he returns. The Cowboys also see questions on the offensive line, in the pass defense and in the pass rush.

Can Bryant rebound from a less-than-stellar 2016? Do the Cowboys have any other game-breakers at wide receiver? What about ageless tight end Jason Witten? If there is really one group of players to fear on this Dallas team, more than Prescott, Bryant and Elliott, it's the front-seven, a group headed by defensive linemen Demarcus Lawrence, Maliek Collins, Tyrone Crawford, rookie defensive end Taco Charlton and WILL linebacker Sean Lee.

One more intriguing storyline: Linebacker Jaylon Smith, drafted last year with no hope of playing in his first season as a result of an injury suffered at the end of his college career at Notre Dame on New Year's Day, 2016, has come along well since tearing the ACL and LCL in his left knee as well as suffering nerve damage that caused "drop foot." Since then, he's worked his way back to playing strength. Now the team will have to see how much further he can go. They'll get their first look this week against Indianapolis.

The biggest story out of Philly is that there are no big stories out of Philly. Instead, the team is looking for improvement on a rebuilding project that started last season with rookie quarterback Carson Wentz and a new head coach, former NFL quarterback Doug Pederson. Yes, they added two big-name receivers in Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith, but each only signed a one-year prove-it contract. The team felt confident enough in the backfield to cut Ryan Matthews, leaving LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles, Donnel Pumphery, Wendell Smallwood, Byron Marshall and Corey Clement. Blount and Sproles should be solid, but it's hard to imagine the Eagles staying with this group through into Week One. Blount, you'll remember, was on the Giants' radar in the off-season but either got a better offer ... or grew tired of waiting.

Questions to be answered: Are Jeffrey and Smith more or less bridging the gap or are they in the team's long-term plans? Was cutting Matthews and trading receiver Jordan Matthews to Buffalo for cornerback Ronald Darby correct? Darby is young, inexperienced and has a long way to go with high expectations. The deal leaves the Eagles with a boost in the secondary, which was sorely needed, and gives Jeffrey, Smith, Nelson Agholor, who has looked good in practice, and long-shot Marcus Johnson the roles at receiver. The Eagles also received a 2018 third-round draft choice. That addition is always a good sweetener.

One more Philly question: Will the defensive line be as good as people think it will? While the unit may not match the best in the league, there's quality there, with Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham, first-rounder Derek Barnett, free agent Chris Long, Fletcher Cox, and free agent defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan leading the way. As good as the D-line should be, the secondary will struggle equally.

It seems as though we only heard about quarterback Kirk Cousins and his roster drama this off-season. That he finally agreed to sign a one-year Franchise Tag was of little surprise, but the future looks blurry past the season, regardless of Cousins' recent declaration that he'd like to stay with Washington for the rest of his career. Meanwhile, the rest of the team hasn't changed all that much from 2016, when the Skins (8-7-1) missed the playoffs but were tough all the way.

The team is very excited about first-round defensive end Jonathan Allen and it should be. It would be a surprise if Allen isn't starting sooner rather than later. However, with the exception of nose tackle Phil Taylor, signed this year from San Francisco and in the midst of a battle for the starting job, much of the top-shelf players have been with the team for a while.

Questions to be answered: On top of the list: Will the loss of both offensive and defensive coordinators take a toll? The offense will now be led by promoted quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh and head coach Jay Gruden will call the plays. Defensively, Greg Manusky takes over for fired Joe Barry and Washington used its first three draft choices on defense.

Tight end Jordan Reed is a stud but has so far been on the Physically Unable to Perform list with a toe injury. While he's expected to be added to the regular roster shortly, will this be a problem during the season? Without a truly elite wide receiver (Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson are gone) and a backfield led by Rob Kelley, Chris Thompson and rookie Samaje Perine, will Cousins suffer from a lack of firepower or does Washington have enough? The running game hasn't impressed the coaching staff thus far.

Defensively, Washington's front-seven, already strong, is improved by Allen's presence, as well as that of second-round SAM linebacker Ryan Anderson and veteran defensive end Stacy McGee. However, the secondary, a relatively weak spot last year, added free safety D.J. Swearinger with high hopes this off-season ... but will he pay off?

Washington was also handed some bad news this week as starting strong safety Su'a Cravens underwent knee surgery to "clean up" some problems after hurting it in the team's first preseason game. While Washington is confident that there was no structural damage, Cravens will miss the remainder of the pre-season Will the surgery slow down his progress, and will he even be ready for the start of the regular season as the team hopes? We'll have to wait and see.

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