Rashad Jennings – © USA TODAY Sports Images
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New York Giants 16 – New England Patriots 13
REVISITING: FOUR DOWNS
During our game preview, we listed ‘Four Downs,’ which took a look at the top four questions surrounding the Giants heading into the game. Now that the game has been played and the film reviewed, it’s time to break it down.
How will guards Weston Richburg and John Jerry do in their first start of this preseason?
Richburg and Jerry had to play for injured starters Geoff Schwartz and Brandon Mosley. Both played well, as will be highlighted below. In fact, Jerry played so well that one wonders who will be the starting guard against Detroit on opening night. We know Richburg will start at left guard until Schwartz returns in a month or so.
Can Mario Manningham make a last-second push for a spot on the roster?
Mario Manningham needed a near miracle to make the Giants roster, and that never came to fruition. Just four plays into the Giants match-up with the Patriots, Manningham was lost for the game with a calf injury. The former Super Bowl hero managed just two catches for 22 yards total this preseason. The Giants placed Manningham on the injured reserve on Friday. A injury settlement will probably be reached, allowing the receiver to sign with another team, but he may be best suited to sit out another year and truly get healthy.
Once again, Corey Washington only came into the game in the second half. But this time there were no late-game heroics. Washington was only targeted twice, catching one pass for three yards. But Washington’s strong preseason resulted in him making the 53-man roster, a shocking development for the “camp fodder” receiver from Newberry College who was waived by the Cardinals back in May.
While his performance was not as strong as the last two preseason games, Nassib still played fairly well. His solid – sometimes outstanding – preseason play caused the Giants to name him the new backup to Eli Manning and terminate the contract of veteran Curtis Painter. The Giants will only go with two quarterbacks this season.
OFFENSIVE OVERVIEW – Eric Kennedy
Not playing offensively for the Giants were WR Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring), WR Trindon Holliday (hamstring), OG Geoff Schwartz (toe), OG Brandon Mosley (back), OT Charles Brown (shoulder), and OT James Brewer (back).
The Giants starting unit only ran eight snaps on two drives – not enough to reasonably critique that unit’s performance other than to note overall preseason trends. Taken in that context, for the starting unit, the passing game continues to struggle while the running game looks much improved over last season. The issues with the passing game are interrelated – shaky pass protection, combined with a lack of receiving targets who Eli Manning seems to trust, combined with a quarterback who predictably is not yet comfortable with the new scheme. This is not to make excuses, but simply to explain. Eli is having to re-train his mind and body to do things differently. Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger explained it well in this article.
Manning also said something very interesting this week in an interview on The NFL Network. He made it clear that the Giants were using the preseason to work on those things where the Giants needed work, and not necessarily focus on making the offense look good to fans and the media.
And Coughlin said on Friday:
I am very confident we are going to get the passing game straightened around. Have we sat back and flat out thrown the ball in one game? No, we haven’t because we are not going to get away from the run because last year we were so poor in the run game that it ruined our balance and in result, we turned the ball over at ridiculous rates. So that is not going to happen and we wanted to make sure of that throughout the course of the preseason. Perhaps there should have been a time where we did nothing but throw the ball, but that really was not something that I wanted to entertain during this preseason.
Excuse making? Perhaps. But Eli and Tom are not prone to that type of behavior.
That all said, this is a new system with new component parts, some of which clearly still need to be upgraded (i.e., offensive line and tight end in particular). As the season progresses, the players will be more and more comfortable with the new scheme. But it will take time.
Manning said on Friday:
It’s a work in progress. It’s not the final product right now. It’s going to be, the more games, the more plays we get, the more practice… there’s definitely room for improvement and that will be a season-long situation, which is, I think, normal. That’s not a bad thing. I think we have to know what we do well and where we need to make our improvements and be dedicated to being harsh on ourselves to make those improvements… Don’t get me wrong, we’re ready for Week 1…We haven’t shown everything in the book.
As for the Giants-Patriots preseason finale, it was more about evaluating the reserves more than anything else. With that in mind, let’s focus on the individual performances rather than the collective success or failure of the offensive unit.
Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images
QUARTERBACKS – Eric Kennedy
Eli Manning finished the game 1-of-4 for 0 yards. While the NYG beat writers had a ball poking fun at those numbers, it is important to put them into some context. On the first drive, WR Rueben Randle dropped one pass right in his hands. Two plays later, on 3rd-and-3, there was miscommunication between Manning and Randle, as Manning threw up the field and Randle cut his route short.
“I thought the worst play of the night was, again, the misconnection between Rueben Randle and Eli,” said Coughlin. “‘I thought, he thought’ – one of those kinds of things. We’re all – everyone in this room – is tired of hearing that stuff. There’s no place for that.”
Had those two passes been completed, Manning’s numbers look much better and the drive continues, leading to other passing opportunities.
On his last possession, on 2nd-and-7, Manning had pressure immediately up the gut in his face (the type of pressure no immobile quarterback responds well to) and his throw to WR Victor Cruz was rushed. Manning completed his 3rd-and-2 pass to TE Kellen Davis, but Davis could not pick up the first down on his own. End of night for Manning. To say Eli didn’t “play well” isn’t really accurate.
Ryan Nassib went 6-of-14 for 107 yards wasn’t as sensational as he was the two previous games. But the light bulb definitely looks like it has clicked inside him. Nassib continues to seem very comfortable out there, and dare I say, the Giants back-up quarterback situation hasn’t been this strong since 1990 – and you know how that season ended.
Nassib came into the game near the end of the first quarter. He expertly completed a quick pass to TE Larry Donnell with a free blitzer coming up the gut at him. But the drive stalled a few plays later when Nassib threw high twice to Donnell in the end zone. On his second and last possession in the first half, Nassib helped to lead the Giants on their only touchdown drive of the night, completing a 26-yard pass to TE Daniel Fells on 3rd-and-3 and a 22-yard pass to WR Jerrel Jernigan on 2nd-and-7.
In the second half, Nassib played in four series, the first three ending in three-and-outs, where he was the victim of one drop and some shakier pass protection. Still, I liked the way he easily moved around the pocket to avoid pressure, something that Manning has trouble doing. On his last series, he moved the team with three passes to the tight ends of 19, 19, and 17 yards, but on the latter catch, Adrien Robinson fumbled the ball away.
Curtis Painter was 3-of-5 for 32 yards. He did not play poorly this preseason, but Nassib clearly out-played him. If God-forbid Eli were to get hurt, Painter would be a guy to bring back behind Nassib.
RUNNING BACKS – Eric Kennedy
I really like the Giants trio of big, physical running backs in Rashad Jennings (3 rushes for 20 yards), Andre Williams (5 rushes for 44 yards), and Peyton Hillis (11 rushes for 40 yards). All are no-nonsense, north-south ball carriers who can wear down a defense. And all three were productive against the Patriots’ reserves.
The best run of the night was Williams’ 38-yard run on 4th-and-1. Behind good blocking, he broke two tackles. However, he followed this up with a poor decision. On 1st-and-goal from the five, for some reason he decided to veer away from his solid run blocking the right and ran right into an unblocked Patriots defender to the left for a 1-yard loss.
Peyton Hillis – © USA TODAY Sports Images
I really like the way Hillis ran the ball on the Giants’ lone touchdown drive of the night in the second quarter. He’s a big man and just kept pounding the ball right up the gut against New England on runs of 5, 2, 7, 7, 3, 8, 2, 2, 0, and 1 (for a touchdown). That’s old school stuff right there. Nothing spectacular, but just keep moving the chains.
In the second half, Kendall Gaskins (8 carries for 41 yards) and Michael Cox (9 carries for 36 yards) received the bulk of the carries. On the night, the Giants rushed 38 time for 179 yards (4.7 yards per carry).
Henry Hynoski won the fullback battle over John Conner because he was more consistent. He had a few nice blocks in this game, but was also flagged with holding and had to leave the game early with a shoulder contusion.
WIDE RECEIVERS – Eric Kennedy
Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle only played two series. Cruz was only targeted once, a rushed throw that fell incomplete. Randle didn’t have a good night. He dropped one pass and was involved in the aforementioned miscommunication play that Coughlin felt was the worst play of the night. The Giants’ “big two” receivers were targeted a combined three times for three incompletions.
Jerrel Jernigan – © USA TODAY Sports Images
Jerrel Jernigan played the entire first half. He was thrown at once for 22 yards.
Preston Parker doesn’t get much separation, but he was also victim of two obvious pass interference calls that were not called in the end zone, including one deep shot. That said, he also dropped the ball. Julian Talley also had a drop.
TIGHT ENDS – Eric Kennedy
Interestingly, the guy who started the game – Kellen Davis – was the one who was cut on Saturday. None of the Giants’ tight ends are physical, move-them-out blockers, but Davis and Daniel Fells are the most consistent in terms of staying engaged with their opponent. For example, Davis had a nice block on Williams’ 38-yard run. On the flip side, Davis couldn’t gain a single yard against a smaller defender on 3rd-and-2, leading to a punt.
Daniel Fells had a good game. He looked natural catching a 26-yard pass down the field and later did a nice job as a lead blocker from the fullback position on the same drive. I would have liked to have seen him come down with a fastball from Nassib on a 3rd-and-6 play where he was held.
It was really and up-and-down night for Larry Donnell and Adrien Robinson. Both remain far too inconsistent as blockers. At times, Donnell and Robinson block their opponents out of the play, and other times they do not. It’s that simple, and it’s that frustrating. My notes for both look the same…”good block…bad block…good block…bad block…” Needless to say, bad blocks are drive killers. What should be a 5-yard run ends up being a 1-yard run.
The good news for Donnell is that he really did make some nice plays in the receiving game, including catches of 19, 19, and 17 yards. He led the team with four catches for 60 yards – that’s outstanding production in limited playing time. Robinson had one big catch for 17 yards on 3rd-and-12, but then fumbled the ball away. Sigh.
OFFENSIVE LINE – Eric Kennedy
With starting guards Geoff Schwartz and Brandon Mosley out of the game, the starting line was Will Beatty (LT), Weston Richburg (LG), J.D. Walton (OC), John Jerry (RG), and Justin Pugh (RT). In the run game, as one would hope, this group mauled the Patriots’ back-ups. The only issue I saw with the starting group in pass protection was with Walton. His man is the one that got in Manning’s face on Eli’s rushed throw to Cruz.
On the third series, Mark Asper played left tackle and Rogers Gaines played right tackle, with Richburg, Walton, and Jerry remaining the interior trio. This group did a nice job in the run game too. And they were pretty solid in pass protection, though, Walton failed to spot the linebacker blitzing up the middle, leading to direct pressure on Nassib. On Williams’ 38-yard run, Walton, Jerry, and Gaines all had good blocks.
On the fourth and last drive of the first half, Dallas Reynolds came in for Walton. Reynolds did a nice job. Asper gave up one pass pressure.
I’ve always liked linemen who not only make the initial block, but then look to engage a linebacker or safety at the second level. This is how big runs occur. Richburg is not a powerful lineman, but he has the athleticism, smarts, and tenacity to look for that second man. And he stays engaged with his man.
By far, Jerry had his best game as a Giant. There were a few runs where I would have liked to have seen him sustain in better fashion, but he was very steady out there and at times, he just mauled guys. The problem with him has always been consistency. For once, in this game, he was very consistent. And he played a ton, right into the fourth quarter. My favorite play of the night? Jerry on the short pull absolutely destroying one Patriots defender then taking another out of the play, helping Kendall Gaskins pick up 19 yards.
In the second half, the line remained Asper-Richburg-Reynolds-Jerry-Gaines for the first three series that ended in three-and-outs. This group did not play as well in the third quarter. Richburg failed to spot a blitz and then Asper’s opponent pressured Nassib into an incompletion. On the next series, Nassib was sacked when Asper’s man blew by him and Gaines, for some reason, chose to double Jerry’s man instead of blocking the end, who had a free pass to Nassib. Gaines seemed to block the wrong guy again on the the third series as his man had another free pass, this time to the ball carrier. That said, aside from these two mental mistakes, Gaines looks the part and did a nice job in most instances. He and Jerry probably played the most snaps.
On the fourth series in the second half, Eric Herman came in for Richburg at left guard. Asper – the weakest link on the second-team line in this game – failed to make his block on a Michael Cox run that lost a yard.
The final line combination of the night was Asper (LT), Jamaal Johnson Webb (LG), Reynolds (OC), Herman (RG), and Gaines (RT).
DEFENSIVE OVERVIEW – Connor Hughes
Not suiting up for the Giants versus New England were cornerback Prince Amukamara and defensive tackle Markus Kuhn. Linebacker Jon Beason remained out while rehabbing his foot injury and safety Cooper Taylor, too.
Overall, with the Giants starters playing the Patriots second string, it was tough to really gauge or put much stock into what was displayed by the starting unit. Essentially, what you saw on the field at MetLife was about as vanilla as vanilla can be. In particular, I tried to keep an eye on those players the Giants specifically kept and a few players that continued to stand out.
I wouldn’t look too much into the numbers, but here they are: Patriots went 9-of-19 on third down and gained a total of 319 yards. Net rushing yards were 54 and passing yards 265.
DEFENSIVE LINE – Connor Hughes
The more I saw of defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins in the preseason, the more I liked. Since the Patriots did not play their starters, he was playing against reserves. But Hankins was impressive. In training camp, the defensive line will do this drill where they lay down four bags and the linemen must side step over them. The quickness of Hankins’ feet is noticeable in this drill, especially for a guy of his size. He shows that again in the game. On the second play from scrimmage, Hankins blew up his blocker, shed the block, then quickly made his way down the line to tackle the ball carrier for no gain. He does things like this on a regular basis. If he can develop a pass rush? He may establish himself as one of the better tackles in the game.
Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images
There has been so much talk this preseason of Damontre Moore, and for good reason. There’s been talk about Jason Pierre-Paul and his return to form, again, for good reason. The one player who has flown a bit under the radar is Robert Ayers Jr. The free-agent from Denver has looked very good this preseason…but not always at defensive end. In the Giants signature “NASCAR,” or the 2014 version of it, Ayers lines up next to Cullen Jenkins and has been a handful for every guard/center he’s matched up against. He’s deceptively quick for his size and has consistently pressured the quarterback. Moore hasn’t seen many first team reps at end, and Ayers is part of the reason why. He hasn’t warranted a move in the NASCAR package, in fact he’s justified his position there more than most.
The most interesting development the past couple weeks from the Giants defensive line is the movement of Damontre Moore. Look, he’s wreaking havoc on opponent’s second-team offensive linemen…which he should. There’s a big difference between a starting offensive lineman, and his backup. He’s looked good each game, but I put little into that when it’s coming against backups. What I do find interesting is how the Giants move him around. Sometimes he’s at left end, sometimes he’s at right. There’s no set position for him. I didn’t see it much versus the Patriots, but he lined up a bit as an tackle, too. He’s got versatility and the Giants seem to be using it.
The Giants were probably holding their prayer beads in the hope Kelcy Quarles cleared waivers. He did not as these very same Patriots must have liked what they saw from him in this game. I understand why he didn’t make the Giants, he’s not as ready to contribute as Mike Patterson/Markus Kuhn, but he is quite the project to develop. Quarles has all the physical tools to be a player in the NFL, just needs a little fine tuning. He sprinted everywhere against the Patriots and made a few impressive stops against the run.
The Giants elected to keep Kerry Wynn on the 53-man roster and watching the film, I get the feeling it’s for his special teams play, not really defense. He flashed a bit against the run but he was near non-existent as a rusher.
I’m not totally sure how much playing time he’ll get this year because of who’s in front of him, but Jay Bromley had a really nice preseason. He got a couple pressures versus New England and one near sack. By near, I mean he did everything but take the quarterback to the ground.
Mike Patterson recorded a sack versus New England, but the credit should go to Damontre Moore. Moore brought the heat from the outside causing Garoppolo to step up and into the waiting arms of Patterson.
LINEBACKERS – Connor Hughes
I tweeted this and now I’ll write it: I don’t see how you can keep Devon Kennard off of the field. I don’t care who’s healthy. The kid has tremendous speed, is as physical as any of the linebackers and has a tremendous head on his shoulders. There’s a reason he was thrown into the starting rotation the minute Jon Beason was hurt. I know Beason will be ‘ready’ for Detroit, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sit and get a week of stamina build up. The fact is, right now the Giants don’t need him nearly as much as was originally anticipated and Kennard is the reason. When Beason does get healthy, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kennard remain the starter at SAM and Jameel McClain take a back seat.
Versus New England, there were two Kennard plays that stood out. The first was when he shot through the middle of the offensive line to make a tackle for a loss. The second was on Zack Bowman’s interception – the one that counted. Kennard came in on a stunt blitz and absorbed a pretty big block from the offensive lineman. After bouncing back a step he hit the lineman with a swim move and dove at Jimmy Garoppolo. The pressure forced a bad throw that Bowman intercepted. He makes plays like this every practice and every game.
I continue to like what I see from Jacquian Williams and his added physicality. He obviously can pass defense, but he also has done very well against the run. I watched one play where he avoided a block and darted into the backfield to make a tackle.
Spencer Paysinger looked pretty good and is quite the backup linebacker to have on the team. There was one play where he stood out poorly to me when I was at the game, but I retract that now. On the long completion down the sideline to a Patriots running back, Paysinger was seen about 10 yards behind sprinting to catch up. The reason? The most blatant illegal pick I’ve ever seen. It may just be me, but Paysinger has looked a bit quicker this year, too. Both in practices and games.
SECONDARY – Connor Hughes
The one player I believe who has impressed me more than any other is Walter Thurmond III. The more I watch him, the more I love the physicality and tenacity he brings to the Giants secondary. He talks the talk, walks the walk and doesn’t care what anybody says.
On the one slant that was a near interception, Thurmond had lock-down coverage, jumped in front the receiver to bat the ball, and then dove in an attempt for an interception. I’m excited to see what he does when the Giants start playing the games for real.
When watching the game live, to me it looked like Trumaine McBride had a rough outing. He was beat several times for catches and once for a touchdown. Watching the film, he didn’t play badly at all. The touchdown could have easily been offensive pass interference, and he had good coverage on each completion he gave up. Give Garoppolo credit for throwing some really nice passes.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had a pass breakup in the first quarter and instantly turned around looking for flags. He had a right to…he got there early. For all the calls that should have been non calls, this was a non call that should have been a call.
The big question surrounding Stevie Brown entering this season – aside from his health – was how he’d play against the run. During his breakout year with the Giants, Brown was known more for playing centerfield than getting dirty in the box. During the preseason, Brown has shown his ability to play down low. Versus New England, he had a play where he lined up outside the tackle, came in on a toss play, split two linemen and made the tackle for a two-yard loss. He’s done that a few times this offseason and it’s been a pleasant sight.
When the Giants signed Zack Bowman, it was thought to be for his special teams play. Throughout the preseason, it’s been his defense that has gotten him noticed. Bowman made two beautiful interceptions versus the Patriots. First off, no, that wasn’t a penalty called on him on the first pick. Discounting that bad call, the way Bowman located the ball in the air, reached up, caught the ball and maintained control as he hit the ground was something else. On his second interception, he read an out-route by the receiver and began to break that way. Then, he read the quarterback’s eyes and saw the ball was being thrown outside. Bowman dove backwards and made the pick. It was a really, really nice play. Bowman right now is the Giants’ fourth or fifth corner, but he’d be a starter on a few other teams.
SPECIAL TEAMS OVERVIEW – by Eric Kennedy
The Giants took a lot of steps this offseason to improve their return game: signing Trindon Holliday and Quintin Demps, and then drafting Odell Beckham. However, those dreaded hamstring injuries derailed those plans. Holliday was placed on IR and is no longer an option. Beckham missed most of the practices and all of the preseason. Now the punt return job seems to be in the hands of journeyman Preston Parker until Beckham can play. If Parker is inactive on game day, it could be Rueben Randle again. Against the Patriots, Preston didn’t help his cause with a muffed punt though he did have one return for 17 yards. Jayron Hosley got a couple of chances but looked very shaky back there. Plus, as we know, he is on the Reserve/Suspended List. Parker had one kickoff return for 21 yards. In the regular-season, it will be Demps returning kicks.
Josh Brown won the place-kicking job and was a perfect 3-for-3 on field goal attempts against the Patriots, including from 24, 45, and 37 yards out. Three of his five kickoffs were touchbacks. The other two returned were only returned for 21 and 17 yards.
Steve Weatherford’s busy preseason included six more punts for a 46.2 average and three downed inside the 20-yard line. The Patriots returned four punts for 20 yards.