Aug 282007
 
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Approach to the Game – New York Giants at New England Patriots, August 30, 2007: The last preseason game is usually mainly focused on determining what the final roster will look like. The starters only play at most a quarter, and often not even that much. And honestly, given the rate that Giants are falling to injury again, the sooner the starters get out of the game, the happier I will be.

The game is most important to those players on the bubble or vying for the primary back-up spots. On Saturday, teams must cut their rosters from 75 to 53. That is a huge cut – 22 players – or almost 30 percent of the roster will be waived or placed on IR. More may be waived as the Giants pick up a player or two from other teams.

The most important issue that faces this team??? It’s not the status of Michael Strahan. It’s the status of the place-kicking situation. As my wife always says, “It always comes down to the kicker.”

Quarterback: Eli Manning has been sharp this preseason. Give him a few reps and get him out of the game. The biggest problem here is that he has not worked much at all with his most important wide receiver – Plaxico Burrress. That could hurt, especially early in the regular season.

Jared Lorenzen should see the bulk of the quarterback snaps. It will be interesting to see what he does with the extended playing time. Both Anthony Wright and Tim Hasselbeck are on the hot seat; both could be waived.

Running Backs: The injury to Robert Douglas confuses matters. The Giants are going to experiment with Reuben Droughns at fullback, but he hasn’t worked much at the position in years, and isn’t particularly fond of the move. The good news – if the Giants are forced to go in that direction – is that having Droughns at fullback would provide the Giants with a viable running and pass-receiving threat at fullback. The bad news is that Droughns is most likely a sub-par blocker. My guess is the Giants are scanning the waiver wire, but any late addition will be totally new to the Giants’ offensive schemes and terminology. It’s not a good situation.

Brandon Jacobs, Droughns, and Ahmad Bradshaw are locks to make the team. I would think Derrick Ward has made it too. I thought Ryan Grant would be on the outside looking in, but Tom Coughlin mentioned that Grant would be playing gunner in the preseason game with David Tyree out. That’s a good sign for Grant. Are the Giants going to carry five halfbacks?

Tight Ends: Another factor in determining the final roster is the surprising emergence of TE Michael Matthews. When Matthews was signed, it was really thought of a camp fodder-type signing since Matthews was not a full-time starter at Georgia Tech with only nine career receptions. But not only does Matthews look the part as a blocker, but he has flashed as a receiver. Matthews played some fullback at Georgia Tech and Coughlin has said he can serve in that role with the Giants as well.

Through three games, it has been kind of a disappointing preseason for Kevin Boss. But he was viewed as somewhat of a project coming out of college given his small school background. Matthews appears to be ahead of him right now.

Wide Receivers: Anthony Mix has really come out of nowhere. While his combination of size and athleticism were intriguing and why the Giants kept him on the Practice Squad last year, he really did not do much last preseason or for much of camp this year. But he has really elevated his game in the preseason and is the Giants’ leading receiver. That stat could be misleading, but it isn’t in this case as Mix is getting significant time with the starters and making clutch receptions. Mix will likely make the team, but will he be active on game day?

That may depend on Sinorice Moss, who was far too quiet last week against the Jets. Even with a tender ankle, Moss flashed his great speed on an end-around, but he has to make more big plays in the passing game. And he has to stay healthy. He will definitely make the team and still has a chance to see more playing time than any other back-up, but Steve Smith looks poised to surpass him on the depth chart, if he hasn’t already.

Regardless, the Giants have some interesting back-ups now in Smith, Moss, and Mix.

Offensive Line: Attention national media…attention local media…the starting offensive line is a STRENGTH of this team. David Diehl is playing even better than hoped and the rest of the line is rock solid.

The question marks still surround depth. Hopefully, Grey Ruegamer (ankle) will be back soon. Do the Giants keep both Zach Piller and Matt Lentz or waive one? Which one? Lentz has helped his cause by playing center this preseason.

Adam Koets has had a rough preseason. I think he might be headed for the Practice Squad. Guy Whimper has played decently in the preseason. The Giants may keep an eye out for a veteran tackle if they think they have room for another tackle to go along with Whimper.

Defensive Line: I was wrong about Strahan. I thought he would be in by now. I still don’t buy his retirement talk in terms of losing his love of the game. I am still 100 percent convinced that it has to do with money and/or perceived lack of respect (which in Michael’s mind is probably the same thing). I think the Giants are kind of caught between a rock and a hard place. I wouldn’t release him because that is what he wants. But at the same time, he could decide at any moment that “Hey, I’m back.” Unlike many, I still think Strahan can play at a high level and take over a game, but the baggage that he brings with him now as a possible disruption to Reese, Coughlin, and the team may simply not be worth it.

But back to the players that are here (and that matter). Justin Tuck’s breakout game last week was encouraging. Lost in his play was the strong game by Osi Umenyiora, who I think is set to have a monster season if he stays healthy. What worries me is the depth situation at defensive end. Adrian Awasom is OK, but there isn’t much else there. William Joseph will likely survive by default unless Strahan appears soon. I have not been impressed at all with Joseph once again. He stinks. If Awasom can’t go again this week, expect the second-team defense to really struggle with Tommy Davis and Marquies Gunn at defensive end (these guys are really third/fourth team type ends). If Strahan doesn’t return this season, and something happens to Tuck or Umenyiora, the Giants will have to move Mathias Kiwanuka back to defensive end. Of course, Simeon Rice is still out there. He’s not an ideal fit, but he may be the best option.

Inside, the top three tackles are obviously Fred Robbins (who played very well last week), Barry Cofield (who flashed), and DT Jay Alford (who still has a lot to learn). That’s another reason why Joseph most likely survives. With Marcus Bell (knee/Injured Reserve) out of the picture and Jonas Seawright missing time with a concussion, the door has been opened for Manny Wright. But Wright looks like he is still really out of shape. He has one of the ugliest football bodies I’ve seen in some time. That said, for a big man, you see the flashes of quickness and strength. If he makes it, he will never be active on game day unless there is an injury, but he may be worth the investment.

Linebackers: Mathias Kiwanuka is progressing, but I think he is still going to have problems with backs in pass coverage. Let’s hope Kawika Mitchell’s injury doesn’t hamper him. He really flashed last week.

The guy who really has had a nice preseason is Reggie Torbor. He’s a bit miscast as a weakside linebacker, but he will likely start for Mitchell against New England. While I like them, I was not impressed with the play of Chase Blackburn and Zak DeOssie against the Jets. Both got hung up on blocks far too easily against the first-team offensive line.

Defensive Backs: To me, one of the pleasant surprises of the preseason has been the play of Corey Webster, despite the fact that he has been limited with his hip injury from last year. On the other hand, Kevin Dockery has struggled. Steve Spagnuolo’s system may not be a good fit for him. With Sam Madison (hamstring), E.J. Underwood (jaw), Dockery (hamstring), and Gerrick McPhearson (ankle) ailing, depth is a big issue in this game. We may see a ton of Darren Barnett and Aaron Ross. I have no idea what the Giants will do when New England goes to multiple WR sets after the starters leave. The Giants may not have enough corners to cover them. Don’t be surprised to see some really cheap (and misleading) touchdowns.

At safety, Michael Johnson also has a hamstring issue and may not play. That’s unfortunate because he needs the work. He has flashed. We’ll see a ton of J.R. Reed and Craig Dahl in this game.

In other words, for much of the game, our secondary may be Reed, Dahl, Barnett, and Ross. Ouch.

Special Teams: It looks like R.W. McQuarters will be the Giants punt returner and Derrick Ward and/or Ahmad Bradshaw the kickoff returner this season.

The biggest issue this team faces – in my mind – is the place-kicking situation. It could mean the difference between being 12-4 and 8-8. Honestly.

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Eric Kennedy

Founder and owner of BigBlueInteractive.com, which is now entering its 20th season. Follow Eric on Twitter @BigBlueInteract.

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