Note: This game preview will be updated to include the latest on the injury situation (who will play/who will not) on Friday.
Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Baltimore Ravens, August 19, 2007: Now things start to get a little more serious. As I mentioned last week, the most important preseason game, in terms of the test run for the opener, is the third preseason game. That’s when the starters will play into the second half. But the second preseason game is pretty important too. We’ll see much more of the first stringers this weekend than we did against the Panthers.
The bad news is that the Ravens – for some reason – bring out the worst in the Giants, including in the preseason. The Giants did beat the Ravens last preseason 17-16, but both the first-team offense and first-team defense were out-played by the Ravens in that game.
The Ravens are a tough, physical team. Their defense is arguably the best in football and probably the toughest to run against. In many ways, the Ravens are what the Giants aspire to be – tough, physical, nasty on both sides of the football.
This week, I want to take a position-by-position look at where the Giants stand heading into this game:
Quarterbacks: We’ll see more of Eli Manning this week against a very tough defense. Unfortunately, Eli will be missing his best receiver again (Plaxico Burress). We don’t know if Amani Toomer will play either or for how long (Update: It looks like Toomer will play). . This will put Eli at a big disadvantage against a very difficult defense. That said, when receivers are open, like the Michael Jennings’ 3rd-and-4 slant pass last week, Eli has to be more accurate with the football. Look, all quarterbacks misfire, but Manning needs to cut down on those misfires.
Tim Hasselbeck is supposed to see playing action this week, and quite frankly, I don’t fully understand why. I’d rather see the reps go to Jared Lorenzen and Anthony Wright, both of whom I thought flashed at times last week.
Wide Receivers: The injury to Plaxico Burress (right ankle sprain, not the ankle he had surgery on) is starting to become worrisome. He’s been out since the beginning of the month. And while the most important thing is for him to get healthy before the real bullets fly, the time he is missing (in addition to the time he missed in the OTA’s and other offseason work) will likely have an impact at some point down the road. Amani Toomer (knee) continues to be limited to one practice per day and he didn’t play last week. “We need the timing work of having Amani and having Plaxico, with Jeremy (Shockey) and the quarterbacks and runners, that type of thing,” says Head Coach Tom Coughlin. “So that’s where I think we’re a little behind, in our timing.”
Those two will obviously make the team. The Giants will carry only three or four more receivers. Steve Smith, Sinorice Moss, and David Tyree are locks. I hope we’ll see more action from both Smith and Moss this weekend. If the Giants carry six receivers, the big battle here appears to be between Michael Jennings and Anthony Mix. Jennings has been spending more time with the starters.
Tight Ends: The loss of Darcy Johnson was significant. He was the leading candidate to be the #2 (blocking) tight end on the team, and played with the first unit last week. Kevin Boss (shoulder) did not practice this week and likely won’t play against the Ravens. This is a big opportunity for Michael Matthews (who also plays some fullback), Charles Davis, and Rodney Burgess to make some noise. If they do not impress, the Giants will have to begin scanning the waiver wire. Of the guys currently on the team, Matthews probably has the best shot to make the team so keep an eye on him.
Running Backs: I liked what I saw from FB Robert Douglas last week in limited action. I hope to see more of him in the lead-blocking role this week. It will be very interesting to see if this young, inexperienced rookie has any hat-on-hat collisions with Ray Lewis. That’s a tough assignment.
I think this game will be a good test for Brandon Jacobs psychologically. He’s not likely to experience much success against the Ravens’ tough run defense, and the Ravens’ defenders love to talk trash. Can Brandon keep his cool? This has been an issue with him in the past. On the other hand, if Brandon can gain yards against the Ravens, he can do so against anyone in the NFL.
I expected Reuben Droughns and Ahmad Bradshaw to flash this preseason, but Derrick Ward and Ryan Grant have been more impressive than expected. The Giants have a real dilemma at this position. Obviously, Jacobs and Droughns are the sure things. General Manager Jerry Reese raves about Bradshaw and because of his different running style than Jacobs/Droughns, one would think he is likely to make the team. Do the Giants carry four running backs? If so, Ward looks like the more obvious choice given his special teams play, but Grant was very impressive last week.
Offensive Line: As for the offensive line, again, the Ravens’ defense will provide special challenges. Can the Giants be physical enough? I think they might surprise. Guys like Diehl, Snee, and Seubert like to mix it up. Obviously, all eyes will be on Diehl again. But everyone has to accept the fact – for better or worse – that Diehl is going to be the guy this year. The Giants are not going to bring in a better alternative at this point. So stop that speculation now.
Guy Whimper played better than reports out of camp suggested he would. Let’s see if that continues. If Adam Koets wants to make the active roster, he must play better this week. One would think that Coughlin would want to keep the veterans OC Grey Ruegamer and OG Zach Piller around. Matt Lentz needs to play well to stick. Don’t read too much into the two offensive line signings this week – the Giants are most likely merely kicking the tires. I doubt these two survive long.
Defensive Line: The Panthers did the Giants a favor last week by showing the players the pitfalls of playing too aggressively up front. You have to play smart too and guard against misdirection. The cutback runs were obviously a problem. I expect we’ll see better play this week, especially with DE Justin Tuck and DT Fred Robbins starting. If Michael Strahan doesn’t show up next week, the Giants need to move on.
The more interesting battles – to me – are for the back-up defensive line spots. Jay Alford will make the team. The Giants will probably only carry one more defensive tackle (though William Joseph may make it as a DT/DE tweener). Marcus Bell didn’t impress last week and was demoted in practice to third string. He needs to step it up quickly or he will be gone. Jonas Seawright needs to can the ballin’ crap and focus on making more plays or he will be bagging groceries too. The most intriguing signing this week was the one for Manny Wright. But you have to think he is a long-shot at best. Not only because of his troubled past, but because he is so far behind everyone else in learning the defensive system. If he doesn’t make some noise right off the bat, he will be gone.
Outside, my focus will be on the young defensive ends, specifically Adrian Awasom, Tommy Davis, Marquies Gunn, and Charrod Taylor. How these guys perform becomes more important, obviously, the longer Strahan holds out. If somebody doesn’t shine here, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Mathias Kiwanuka moved back to end shortly. As I’ve mentioned previously, Tommy Davis has caught my eye.
Linebackers: Obviously, the Giants need better play out of their starting three linebackers than they received last weekend. We need to see dramatic improvement by Kiwanuka in terms of his instincts for the position. I fully understand there will be growing pains, but the significance of the errors against the Panthers was disconcerting – especially against the run. I also expected much more out of Kawika Mitchell.
Reggie Torbor did squat last week. If he doesn’t make plays against back-ups, he will officially reach bust status. Ironically, the team that was hot to draft him aside from the Giants a few years ago was the Ravens. Chase Blackburn and Zak DeOssie flashed last week so I will be keeping eye on both again.
Defensive Backs: This area really concerns me. Finally, we will get a chance to see Aaron Ross this week. But Corey Webster’s hip is bothering him again and he probably will not play. That’s very troubling. All the corners, including the starters, need to play the run better than they did last week. The run force was not good. One of the down sides to playing more man-to-man defense is that your back is to the offense, and because you are not playing an area (zone) of the field, run defense by the secondary is more difficult.
With Webster hurt, Travonti Johnson waived/injured, and Gerrick McPhearson (groin) ailing, preseason depth has become a concern. We should see E.J. Underwood finally play his first game as a Giant. Kevin Dockery really struggled last week. Perhaps man coverage is not his forte.
The safeties were not very inspiring last week either. James Butler took a very poor angle on one big run that should have been limited to a 5-yard carry had he been in better position. Gibril Wilson didn’t make much noise – which is becoming a common occurrence for him. This defense is designed for the safeties to make plays. Will Demps played the best of this group.
With Michael Stone (hip) missing a ton of practice time, Craig Dahl saw a lot of action last week and had a very poor game. He obviously needs to rebound. I actually saw some good things from Michael Johnson – he looks like he likes to hit and seems more athletic than Dahl to me.
Special Teams: Not talked about much last week was how well the kick and punt coverage units performed.
The Giants still need to settle on a primary punt and a primary kickoff returner. Keep in mind that everyone can’t be active on gameday so that will factor into the equation too (for example, the Giants probably won’t be able to activate both Bradshaw and Ward – assuming both make the team).
The biggest concern on specials – and arguably for the entire team – is the place kicking position. Both Lawrence Tynes and Josh Huston were not even tested last week. That’s bad. It’s one of the reasons why I was hoping for the Giants’ third-team offense to get into field goal position late in the Panthers game. Both kickers have not exactly inspired confidence in camp.