Mon, 28 Sep 2020

Giants vs. Steelers: 5 players to watch in Week 1

Giants
14 Sep 2020, 19:12 GMT+10

Matt Citak

The time has finally come. After an off-season unlike anything we have experienced before, the Giants are set to kick off their 2020 schedule Monday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Joe Judge will make his head coaching debut at MetLife Stadium, as two of the most storied franchises in the NFL go head-to-head on national television.

The Steelers present a tough matchup for this young Giants team, but Coach Judge will have his team ready to battle for all 60 minutes.

Here are five players to watch in the regular season opener.

QB Daniel Jones

It is no secret that Jones is the key to the offense's success this season. Following a strong rookie campaign in which he led all rookie quarterbacks with 24 touchdown passes and set numerous franchise rookie records, Jones will look to build on his first-year success.

Jones' one Achilles heel were turnovers, specifically fumbles. However, the former Duke quarterback spent the off-season working on ball security, which included adding nearly 10 pounds of muscle in order to strengthen his game.

The Steelers present a staunch pass rush with several talented players, including T.J. Watt (14.5 sacks), Bud Dupree (11.5) and Cameron Heyward (9). Jones will likely feel some pressure, but it will be important to see how he's improved his pocket presence.

TE Evan Engram

Based on talent and skills alone, there's no denying that Engram is one of the top tight ends in the NFL. Not many 6-foot-3, 240-pound men can run a 4.42 40-yard dash and have a 36-inch vertical, but the fourth-year tight end fits the bill.

Only injuries have kept Engram from taking the leap into the upper echelon of the position. After playing in 15 games as a rookie, Engram has been on the field for just 19 games (14 starts) since the beginning of the 2018 season. But the 26-year-old is entering the season fully healthy, and looks primed for a breakout season.

Engram recorded 44 receptions for 467 yards and three touchdowns in eight games last season. Pittsburgh allowed eight touchdowns to opposing tight ends, the third-highest mark in the league, but safety Minkah Fitzpatrick didn't arrive in a deal with Miami until after Week 2.

C Nick Gates

Monday is a big night for the Giants' revamped offensive line, as it is the first chance the unit will get to showcase the improvement it has made with the additions of tackles Andrew Thomas and Cameron Fleming. While those two will be manning the outside, Nick Gates will be making his first NFL start at center after a tough training camp competition with Spencer Pulley.

Gates has shown versatility throughout his football career. He started 25 straight games at left tackle for Nebraska before spending time at both right tackle and right guard for the Giants last season.

This will be far from an easy Week 1 matchup - the Steelers have talented interior defensive linemen in Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu, each of whom shined against the run and the pass last season.

OLB Lorenzo Carter

With the addition of Kyler Fackrell and the return of Markus Golden, the Giants boast an interesting group of edge rushers. The two veterans are also joined by second-year outside linebacker Oshane Ximines, who recorded 4.5 sacks in his rookie campaign. But possibly the most crucial member of the Giants' pass rush this season will be third-year linebacker Lorenzo Carter.

Carter registered 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble in 15 games (12 starts) in 2019, a slight bump from his rookie season numbers. Checking in at 6-foot-5, 255-pounds with a 40-yard time of 4.50 seconds, the former Georgia Bulldog brings a unique skill set to the unit. He has the speed and strength to bully opposing offensive tackles, which he put on full display during the team's recent Blue-White Scrimmage.

During the scrimmage, Carter was unofficially credited with at least three sacks while constantly applying pressure on the quarterback. He stood out as one of the team's stars throughout training camp.

LB Blake Martinez

Martinez was one of the Giants' big off-season acquisitions. Over the last three seasons, the inside linebacker has led the NFL with 443 total tackles while recording at least 144 stops in each of those campaigns.

He missed a few practices during the summer, but Martinez (voted co-captain this week) is expected to be ready to bring stability to the middle of the defense, which will be welcomed following the knee injury to veteran linebacker David Mayo earlier in camp.

The Steelers come into the season with high expectations for their run game. James Conner, averaging a strong 4.4 yards per carry in 37 career games (22 starts), is healthy following an injury-plagued 2019.

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