Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Baltimore Ravens, August 11, 2006: It happens every year. Fans of each NFL team get all worked up for the first preseason game. In most instances, it has been more than seven months since they saw their team take the field. The fans of even the worst teams have Super Bowl dreams as most realize how watered down the League has become. Who can blame them after watching that piss-poor Super Bowl? Everyone is hyped for that first, albeit meaningless, game.
Then reality hits. The starters only see a limited amount of action in the first preseason game – perhaps a quarter. Teams don’t really game plan or use their best plays. There isn’t a lot of blitzing or exotic coverages on defense. Offensively, it’s pretty much bread-and-butter. Players are still not used to full-speed, full-contact play. There are mistakes, penalties, missed tackles, dropped balls, and generally sloppy play. Then the scrubs come in and the play gets even worse. Fans get depressed and start bitching and moaning. Someone wants to fire the coach. It happens every year.
The most important thing about these preseason games are not the wins or losses. The most important thing is that the regulars gets some real game action so they can get accustomed to the speed and physical side of the game again. And that they do so WITHOUT GETTING INJURED!!! You want to see the offensive line work as a unit, communicating about different defensive looks. You want to see the receivers and quarterback on the same page. You want to see the defense play the run well, get after the passer, and cover. It’s also a great time to see the new guys in uniform – both veteran free agents and the rookies. But take it for what it is and don’t make more out of it than it is. The first preseason game is usually sloppy. The second preseason game is more important as the starters will usually play an entire half. The third preseason is the MOST important as the starters usually see three quarters of action. And the fourth game is usually the most meaningless of all with the first-teamers only seeing a series or two.
Now that all said, with the extremely tough schedule the Giants have to start the season, the team does need to get in sync faster than usual. There has to be a greater sense of urgency in order to get ready for the Colts, Eagles, and Seahawks.
Giants on Offense: Much of the fan focus will be on the quarterbacks – and for good reason. Everyone wants to see if Eli Manning is ready to take the next step forward in his development. But what most people have to still realize is that Manning still has not started all that many pro football games (24 regular and postseason games total). He is still going to make mistakes. And there are those sharks in the water out there who are just waiting for him to screw up so they can crow about it. What we want to see is Manning improve his overall accuracy and cut down on big mistakes. Progress may come from him simply throwing the ball away on third down instead of throwing it up for grabs. I personally hope to see him dump the ball off more to his backs if his primary receiver is covered. That will help improve his completion percentage and keep the team in more manageable down-and-distance situations.
The back-up quarterback situation seems to be a bit of a mess. Rob Johnson has not impressed at training camp. Jared Lorenzen has, by far, the strongest arm, but is wildly inconsistent. At times, he looks good; at other times, he looks terrible. Tim Hasselbeck is probably the safest option to be the #2 guy, but it is difficult to imagine him being able to keep the team afloat if Manning goes down for more than a game or two. The big hope here is that someone emerges in the four preseason games as the clear-cut #2 guy – and that guy impresses enough to make us all feel a bit better about the back-up situation.
In terms of the running backs, I hope and expect Coughlin gets Tiki Barber out of the game quickly. I would like to see Brandon Jacobs get about 10-12 carries before the scrubs come in. Coughlin has indicated that James Sims will get a heavy workload. He’s not likely to make the team, but this is his big chance to make his case. It’s really too bad that Derrick Ward will be lost for the entire preseason. Jim Finn is entrenched as the fullback, barring injury.
Everyone knows that the starters at wide receiver and tight end are set – Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer, and Jeremy Shockey. Shockey (concussion) won’t play and that will affect the ability of the offense to move the ball on a very tough Ravens’ defense. The more interesting players to watch will be the ones behind these three. Can Visanthe Shiancoe adequately fill in for Shockey as a receiver? UPDATE: Shiancoe (knee) may not play. Who will be the #3 tight end – a player who will see quite a bit of action during the regular season? Wade Fletcher, Boo Williams, and Darcy Johnson are all in the mix. Their ability or inability to block may be the deciding factor. As for the receivers, can Tim Carter translate his strong training camp performance to the actual playing field? With Sinorice Moss (who will not play – quad) and David Tyree having two roster spots locked up, is there room for a sixth wide receiver? If so, who will that be? Willie Ponder, Triandos Luke, Anthony Mix, Michael Jennings, or Harry Williams? The Giants may decide to only carry five.
Finally, how will the offense line look? It hurts overall cohesion and chemistry to have Chris Snee out for a lengthy period. That’s not good given the rough start to the schedule. Rich Seubert will start and he is a good player, but the Giants need to get Snee back in there quickly in order to work on blitz pickups and stunts. Personally, I want to see strong games out of the starting tackles. Shaun O’Hara is supposedly bigger and stronger and that will be interesting to see. The Ravens’ defense is tough to run against. The second-team offensive line will miss the presence of Seubert and Lewis Kelly. The Giants will be very inexperienced at the guard spots. Rookie Matt Lentz is a guy who I think could stick if he shows enough. But the quality of the other guards – Kevin McAlmont, Ben Herrell, and Julius Franklin – could cause problems for the second-team offense. Things could get ugly here for Hasselbeck and the running game.
Giants on Defense: Don’t look for any exotic defense packages, blitzes, or intricate coverage schemes. Defensive Coordinator Tim Lewis likes to mix things up, but not in the preseason. The linebacking corps will be without two starters – LaVar Arrington (knee) and Carlos Emmons (burner) – so we won’t truly have a feel for this defense as unit regardless. The focus on defense will be the interior defensive line play and the secondary.
Up front, we know that Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora are entrenched as the ends, with the coaching staff scheming to find ways to get Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka on the field with the regulars as well. We likely won’t see those type of packages in the preseason. We’ll see Tuck and Kiwanuka as more traditional defensive ends with the second-team defense (talk about depth at end)! Even the third-string ends – Eric Moore and Adrian Awasom – have talent. Everyone knows that the Giants are far less stable at defensive tackle. However, it appears that William Joseph, Fred Robbins, Barry Cofield, and Jonas Seawright have all practiced well at camp. These are big men with a lot of ability. They could form a strong four-tackle rotation – that is if the Giants can find a way to activate them all on game day.
With Arrington and Emmons out, Reggie Torbor and Brandon Short will start outside, with the quarterback of the defense, Antonio Pierce, playing inside UPDATE: Brandon Short (knee) may not play either. This is where the Giants’ improved depth really starts to show up. Chase Blackburn has had a good camp and he and Gerris Wilkinson really round out the linebacking corps nicely. As for the third-teamers, I’d like to see enough flashes from Thomas Carroll to suggest possibly keeping him on the Practice Squad.
Much attention will be paid to the almost completely revamped secondary. Only SS Gibril Wilson returns as a regular starter from last season. The new corners are Sam Madison and Corey Webster, both of whom have been playing well at camp in recent days. Will Demps adds better toughness and range at free safety. UPDATE: Will Demps (knee) might not play. The new nickel back is R.W. McQuarters and he is an improvement as well. But all are new to each other and all have to quickly get on the same page together or Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb, and Matt Hasselbeck will have a field day. There is fierce competition for the backup spots at cornerback (Curtis Deloatch, Frank Walker, Gerrick McPhearson, Brandon Williams, E.J. Underwood, Vontez Duff, Kevin Dockery) and safety (Charlie Peprah, James Butler, Quentin Harris, Jason Bell, Jason Shivers, and Claudius Osei).
Giants on Special Teams: The Giants are taking it easy on Jeff Feagles in camp. Jay Feely is entrenched as the placekicker. There are better athletes on this team than last year so the coverage teams should be stronger, although special teams are often sloppy in the preseason with coaches experimenting with different combinations (plus guys playing who won’t be in the NFL in a few weeks). Chad Morton – a year further removed from his knee surgery – is supposedly regaining his old quickness and speed. That’s exciting to contemplate.