Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Pittsburgh Steelers, August 10, 2013: This is the 19th year I’ve done game previews for BBI and my primary message for the first preseason game is the same: this is a glorified scrimmage, the starters will only play a quarter at most, don’t overreact to the game, and pray the Giants come out healthy.
That said, this is a good opponent for the Giants to “practice” against. As we all know, the Steelers are a well-coached, confident, physical football team. They have been running a tough and physical training camp (as much as the new rules allow) and therefore they may be slightly ahead of the Giants right now in terms of the physical side of the game – blocking, hitting, tackling.
Offensively, the Giants may not look very smooth against last year’s #1 ranked defense, especially with so many component parts on the offensive line not playing or limited. Defensively, the Giants are looking to improve their toughness, physicality, play against the run, and cut down on big plays in the passing game. On special teams, the Lawrence Tynes era is over.
Obviously, with the starters not playing long, much of the focus will be on back-ups, both players who the Giants have been developing and the new faces.
Quarterbacks: With Eli, you want him to get some work against a top defense, hopefully make a few plays, then get out of the game healthy. He wasn’t as good in 2012 as he was in 2011. He needs to continue to work on his overall consistency as a play-maker and reduce the number of brain fart moments he occasionally still has.
The big question here is will the Giants keep two or three quarterbacks on the roster? Under Coughlin, the trend has been to keep two, but Ryan Nassib is a rookie and has had his share of rough moments in training camp. The only way I see the Giants carrying two quarterbacks this year is if Nassib lights it up in the preseason or David Carr simply looks dreadful.
Running Backs: I can’t imagine a better opponent for David Wilson and Andre Brown to practice their blitz pickups against. In the Steelers’ 3-4 defense, big, physical linebackers will blitz from any direction. To me, the #1 area to focus on offensively in this game is how David Wilson pass protects. Is he big enough, physical enough, and smart enough to do it?
With Ryan Torain (concussion) out, Da’Rel Scott and Michael Cox should see a lot of touches in their quest to win the #3 running back spot. I am particularly interested in seeing Cox, who has had a good training camp. However, if past preseasons are any indication, the backup running backs will probably have a hard time running behind the #2 and #3 offensive lines.
Wide Receivers: The top four guys are pretty obvious: Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, and Louis Murphy. I am very interested in seeing Murphy. He’s got good speed and his route running is coming along. The knock on him in the past has been his hands.
Will the Giants keep five or six wide receivers? Jerrel Jernigan needs to start making plays. If the Giants keep six receivers, Ramses Barden may win the job by default unless Kris Adams, Kevin Hardy, Keith Carlos, Brandon Collins, or Julian Talley impress. I’d be tempted to waive Barden when its cut-down time. No other team is likely to pick him up and thus the Giants could re-sign him at any time if injuries strike.
Tight Ends: This is an area that I will be watching closely. First, you have newcomer Brandon Myers who seems like the kind of smart, savvy tight end who veteran quarterbacks love. However, he’s not the biggest guy in the world and we’ll have to watch his blocking. Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell have had good camps – both have the size you look for in tight ends. Bear Pascoe will used at fullback, tight end, and H-Back. Don’t be surprised if the Giants keep all four on the 53-man roster. Chase Clement is the wild card, but his best chance may be the Practice Squad.
Offensive Line: This is potentially the Achilles’ heel of the offense. But also keep in mind that this unit may not look very good on Saturday night against the #1 defense in the NFL from last season, especially with so many parts out or limited. OG Chris Snee (hip) only just came off the PUP. David Baas (various offseason surgeries) is also being worked back slowly. OT/OG James Brewer (concussion), who has seen a lot of work with the first unit in camp, and OT Justin Pugh (concussion), who is competing for a starting job, will not play. Brandon Mosley, who spent all of his rookie season on Injured Reserve, will start at right guard. The domino effect of the other players not playing or not playing long will likely mean the #2 and #3 lines will not look very good. Focus more on individual play, especially by Mosley, Matt McCants, and Selvish Capers.
Defensive Line: The line will have a different feel to it this year, especially with Osi Umenyiora and Chris Canty gone. Mathias Kiwanuka is back at defensive end. Justin Tuck (who may not play due to back tightness) is supposedly re-invigorated. Shaun Rogers, on Injured Reserve all of last season with a blood clot, gets a second chance to make his Giant debut. And then there are newcomers Cullen Jenkins, Johnathan Hankins, and Damontre Moore.
The biggest question about this unit will not be answered this preseason: when will Jason Pierre-Paul be back, and when he does come back, how effective will he be? Back injuries are tricky, and many players who miss training camp and the preseason never really look right, and often get hurt again.
On paper, the rest of the line looks strong, but we’ll see how that translates on the field. One has to think that Tuck, Kiwanuka, Pierre-Paul, Moore, and Adrian Tracy are the locks at defensive end. Matt Broha, Justin Trattou, and Adewale Ojomo are going to have to play exceptionally well to make it. Broha is a guy who most fans don’t talk about, but I’m interested in seeing him play again this preseason.
Inside, Linval Joseph and Cullen Jenkins will start. But Jenkins has also been playing quite a bit at defensive end. This flexibility suggests that Giants will not keep more than the five defensive ends previously mentioned, and the team therefore may be able to keep one more tackle. Hankins has had a really strong camp and he could develop into a really important player for the Giants. One of the less talked about developments has been the strong return of 34-year old Shaun Rogers, who has actually seen time with the starting unit. How much does he really have left in his tank?
My guess is that Markus Kuhn (PUP – knee) is actually healthier than the team is letting on but they will put him on Injured Reserve one more year in order to protect him. If the Giants keep five tackles, the battle is between Marvin Austin and Mike Patterson. Austin will have to look really bad in order to get cut.
Linebackers: All of the starting positions seem up for grabs. In the middle, it’s Mark Herzlich versus Dan Connor. Spencer Paysinger and Keith Rivers have been starting outside, but will be pressed by Jacquian Williams and Aaron Curry. Kyle Bosworth has flashed and should help out a lot on special teams. Focus on linebacker coverage and physical play against the run. And what about making an impact play?
Defensive Backs: In 2012, the Giants allowed 60 passes of 20 or more yards (the NFL’s fourth-highest total), 29 passes of at least 30 yards (led the NFL), and 13 passes of 40 or more yards (second in the league). The players on this unit talk a big game, but they really haven’t backed it up. We’ll see if they can turn it around.
At safety, gone is Kenny Phillips (Eagles). Antrel Rolle and Stevie Brown will start at safety. Can Brown build upon his surprising 2012 season? For a big safety, he’s not very noticeable against the run. Hopefully that is a part of his game that improves. The Giants seem to really like Ryan Mundy. Will Hill seems to have seen his stock drop somewhat. With a drug suspension looming, he needs a strong preseason. Cooper Taylor (hamstring) will unfortunately miss the game. Is Tyler Sash just a special teamer?
At corner, Giants’ fans pray Corey Webster rebounds or the cornerback position may be far shakier than we want to admit. He needs to stay healthy too. Prince Amukamara has had a really strong camp, but he also needs to stay healthy. Jayron Hosley was somewhat injury-prone in 2012 as well; can he develop into a more reliable and consistent corner? Aaron Ross is thrilled to be back and seems to play as well as he ever has. He may be a bigger addition than we realize. Terrell Thomas is coming back from three ACL tears on the same knee. There are some lesser known players in this group who may surprise including Trumaine McBride, Terrence Frederick, Junior Mertile, Charles James, and Laron Scott.
Special Teams: How reliable a kicker will Josh Brown be? Who will be the primary kickoff and punt returners? With the bottom half of the roster dramatically changing, how strong will kickoff and punt coverage be?