|Jaguars, Ramsey out to shut down Beckham, Giants|
The Jacksonville Jaguars rode a stingy defense to the cusp of a Super Bowl appearance last season while injuries and dysfunction marred the 2017 campaign of the New York Giants.
The Jaguars' defense will test its mettle on Sunday (1 p.m. ET) at MetLife Stadium against a Giants' offense that features a healthy Odell Beckham and celebrated running back Saquan Barkley, who was the second overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Jacksonville made significant strides in its ascent, posting a 10-6 mark last season en route to winning the AFC South title. The Jaguars edged the Buffalo Bills in a low-scoring wild-card matchup and outslugged the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round before dropping a 24-20 decision to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
Although Jalen Ramsey was unable to make good on his guarantee of Super Bowl success, the outspoken cornerback hasn't been shy in the offseason as he called out virtually every NFL quarterback in a GQ interview -- including Giants veteran Eli Manning.
"It's not really Eli. I think it's Odell. I won't say Eli's good, I'll say Odell's good. And their connection is good," Ramsey said in the monthly men's magazine.
Manning wasn't interested in engaging Ramsey in a verbal battle. The 37-year-old Manning's best weapon in the argument will come in the form of Beckham, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who became the NFL's highest-paid wide receiver late last month after signing a five-year, $95 million contract.
"It's going to be a show ... he's the best wide receiver, I'm the best corner," Ramsey said of his expected battle with Beckham, who missed the majority of 2017 after sustaining a broken ankle.
Beckham, in turn, wasn't interested in talking trash through the media.
"I don't want to say I'm a different person but I have different outlooks and perspectives on things," Beckham said, via the New York Post. "I've had a lot happen and you take it and learn and grow from it."
The Giants made sweeping changes after a disastrous 3-13 campaign that saw Manning's consecutive starts streak come to an unceremonious end at 210 games. After all, the two-time Super Bowl winner was effectively benched for Geno Smith.
Shortly after the season concluded, New York named Dave Gettleman as its general manager and Pat Shurmur as head coach. The Giants later signed mammoth Nate Solder to aid a forgiving offensive line and selected Barkley in a bid to address a 26th-ranked rushing game.
Barkley may find tough sledding on Sunday, however, as the Jaguars ranked second in the NFL in both points allowed (16.8 per game) and total defense (286.1 yards).
Jacksonville didn't have much issue running the ball, with Leonard Fournette serving as a key element in the team claiming its first division title since 1999.
Fournette rushed for 1,040 yards with a league third-best nine rushing touchdowns in his first season since being selected with the fourth overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft.
The potent rushing game alleviated some of the pressure for quarterback Blake Bortles, who overcame public criticism to throw for 3,687 yards and 21 touchdowns last season.
Bortles' wide receiver corps features a new look heading into this season. Allen Robinson (Chicago) and Allen Hurns (Dallas) departed in free agency while Marqise Lee sustained a season-ending knee injury during the preseason to put even more focus on the younger wideouts. Keelan Cole, who ranked fourth among rookies with 748 yards, joins Dede Westbrook and Donte Moncrief as Jacksonville bids to keep defenses honest.
The Giants are looking to rebound from an ugly three-win season, and the first step likely will come from Barkley. The former Penn State star is not expected to be under any limitations in his NFL debut after tweaking his hamstring during practice last month.
"I definitely think I'm ready for a full (workload) the way I've been preparing and practicing," said the 6-foot, 233-pound Barkley, who rushed for 3,843 yards and 43 touchdowns in 38 career games with the Nittany Lions.
While opposing defenses' focus likely will be split between Barkley and Beckham, wideout Sterling Shepard is looking to build off a career-best 731 receiving yards last season. Evan Engram excelled in his first season, ranking first among rookie tight ends in receptions (64) and receiving yards (722) to go along with six touchdowns.
The Giants certainly need more out of their offense after averaging 15.4 points per game last season. That total ranked only slightly ahead of the winless Cleveland Browns (14.6).
Points won't be easy to come by against Jacksonville, which saw defensive end Calais Campbell record a franchise record with a career-best 14.5 sacks last season. Linebacker Telvin Smith had a team-high 102 tackles.
Landon Collins, who had 99 tackles, became the Giants' first safety to register 95-plus tackles in three different seasons.