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By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com

Approach to the Game – New England Patriots at New York Giants, September 2, 2010: The outcome of the Giants-Ravens preseason game did not surprise me, or alarm me all that much.  Missing 14 players, including some key components, the Giants were at a severe disadvantage against one of the best teams in the NFL.  Contrary to what Tom Coughlin suggested, I don’t think it was a lack of focus or energy.  It was simply the Ravens taking advantage of injury issues on the Giants’ offensive line and in the secondary.

That said, these very same injury issues can impact the 2010 regular season, especially the early part of it.  That’s what makes me a bit uneasy.  To be frank, this hasn’t been a very good training camp or preseason for the Giants.  Too many parts missed too much valuable time.  You can sense the frustration on Tom Coughlin.

The preseason finale is not an important game.  Anyone making too much of the game – either in a positive or negative light – would be silly.  Historically speaking, Bill Belichick sometimes doesn’t even play his starters in the fourth game.  And historically speaking, both Coughlin and Belichick seem more anxious to get the game over than to actually win it.  The Giants’ starters may play a bit more than normal just to give Manning and the offensive line more work since they need it.

Giants on Offense: Against one of the very best defenses in the NFL, the Giants were put in a bad spot against Baltimore by two facts: (1) Eli Manning showed rust after missing a week of practice and a preseason game, and (2) the offensive line was in a state of disorder.

The offensive line is the key to the Giants’ success (or lack thereof) this season on offense.  Against the Ravens, two starters were out of the lineup (McKenzie and O’Hara), the left guard was playing center with a hand in a cast, the back-up left tackle was playing right tackle, and the starting left tackle was back after playing much of camp and the preseason at left guard.  And the Ravens have one of the best front sevens in football.   Surprised by the lack of offensive output?  You shouldn’t have been.

The problem is that the offensive line of Diehl, Seubert, O’Hara, Snee, and McKenzie has received virtually no work together this entire preseason.  That spells trouble early in the season.  Worse, Seubert (hand), O’Hara (ankle), and Snee (knee) are still nowhere near 100 percent.  O’Hara won’t play against the Patriots.  The signing of Shawn Andrews is looking more and more important each day.

Since the fourth game is more about who will and who won’t make the squad, let’s focus a bit more on the reserves.  22 roster moves will need to be made after the game.

OL: How many offensive linemen will the Giants carry?  McKenzie, Snee, O’Hara, Seubert, Diehl, Andrews, Beatty, and Petrus make eight.  That may be all they carry.  Guy Whimper, despite starting all preseason, may not make it. Adam Koets may be a goner too.

TE: Boss and Pascoe are the locks.  It’s unlikely that the Giants give up on Travis Beckum so soon despite him missing virtually all of camp and the preseason with an assortment of injuries. Since Beckum is more of an H-Back, the Giants may keep an eye out on the waiver wire for another true tight end.

WR: Smith, Nicks, Manningham, Hagan, Cruz, and Barden.  I doubt anyone else makes it.

RB:  Bradshaw, Jacobs, and Hedgecock are the sure bets.  Do the Giants keep both D.J. Ware and Andre Brown?

QB: Biggest question on offense right now – who is the backup quarterback? Sorgi is gone. Do the Giants go into 2010 with Rhett Bomar as the primary and lone backup? Or do they look to bring aboard a veteran? The game against the Patriots may be decisive in determining these answers.

Giants on Defense: Even minus Chris Canty and Jason Pierre-Paul, I was impressed with the performance of the defensive line against the Ravens.  It was the coverage ability of the middle linebacker and 4th and 5th corners that bothered me.  Despite a strong pass rush, the Ravens completely eschewed the run to go after the weakened secondary.  In a way, in a meaningless game, the Ravens may have done the Giants a huge favor.  The weaknesses were clearly identified.

Contrary to many, I don’t think the success or failure of the Giants will depend on Jonathan Goff.  Middle linebackers are important, but not that important.  It is easier to scheme defensively to protect the middle linebacker in coverage if you have quality safeties.  But it’s much, much harder to hide bad cornerbacks.  Everything depends on the health of Webster, Thomas, and Ross.  And Ross is going to be bothered by a foot injury all season.  Will it impact his play in the field or will adrenaline take over and compensate?  That remains to be seen.  To me, the most disappointing Giant this preseason has been Bruce Johnson.  The Giants need him to elevate his game.

Let’s look at the positions:

DE:  Four sure bets: Tuck, Umenyiora, Kiwanuka, and Pierre-Paul.  Tollefson has not impressed me but special teams may save him.  That said, can the Giants really activate five DEs on game day?

DT: Sure bets are Canty, Cofield, and Joseph. Rocky Bernard had his best game as a Giant last week and it is interesting to note he started with Canty out.  Jay Alford obviously isn’t completely back from his ACL.  Can the Giants carry five DTs?  I’m afraid the Giants are going to lose Nate Collins once he hits the waiver wire.

LB: There are some tough decisions to be made here and special teams will very much be a consideration. We know Boley, Goff, and Bulluck will make it. So will Sintim and Dillard – the draft picks. Not counting DeOssie, will the Giants carry one or two or even three more linebackers?  The fate of Gerris Wilkinson, Chase Blackburn, and Bryan Kehl rest in the balance.

CB: Webster, Thomas, and Ross are the sure bets. Bruce Johnson will probably make it. But the Giants had better be scanning the waiver wire because no one else appears very good.

S: Rolle, Grant, and Phillips. My guess is that the 4th spot is between Michael Johnson and Sha’reff Rashad.  The Giants may keep an eye on the waiver wire here too.

Giants on Special Teams: While I think there will be some remaining rough spots, Matt Dodge is coming along. The kid is getting better.

Lawrence Tynes has been doing a nice job on field goals and kickoffs.

It’s the coverage units and return game that have been a problem.  Based on what we have seen to date, assuming Ross no longer returns punts, there isn’t a quality kickoff or punt returner on this roster.  This definitely is an area where the Giants need to aggressively scan the waiver wire.

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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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