Aug 302017
 
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Nat Berhe, New York Giants (September 1, 2016)

Nat Berhe – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Preseason Game Preview: New York Giants at New England Patriots, August 31, 2017

THE STORYLINE:
The New York Giants and New England Patriots have been playing against each other in the 4th preseason game since 2005. Last year was a bit of a roll reversal for each team as it was the Giants who sat most of their starters while New England played their starters, including Tom Brady. The Giants back-ups actually performed admirably well in that game.

We don’t know how Bill Belichick will approach this year’s game, but Ben McAdoo already made it known he will handle the game like he did last year. So aside from the list of injured players below, don’t expect Giants’ stalwarts like Eli Manning, Brandon Marshall, Damon Harrison, Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Landon Collins to play. We may not eve see guys like Sterling Shepard, Dwayne Harris, Shane Vereen, and Rhett Ellison. Last year, Weston Richburg did not play and the other starters on the offensive line only played a handful of snaps.

Long story short, this is less of a competitive contest than an evaluation period for the bubble players right before Saturday’s massive cut-down deadline.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Odell Beckham, Jr. (ankle)
  • WR Tavarres King (ankle)
  • DT Jay Bromley (knee)
  • LB Keenan Robinson (concussion)
  • LB Mark Herzlich (stinger)
  • CB Eli Apple (ankle)
  • CB Michael Hunter (concussion)
  • S Duke Ihenacho (knee)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The biggest story line offensively for the Giants will be this is the final audition for the back-up quarterbacks. On Saturday, Geno Smith or Josh Johnson will be cut. And if both struggle against the Patriots, while unlikely, it is not out of the realm of possibility that the Giants cut both. Smith has looked like the more legit NFL quarterback this preseason, but as demonstrated throughout his short NFL career, he has also been guilty of the ugly turnover. Johnson simply has not impressed. At the bottom of the depth chart is Davis Webb, who hasn’t received nearly enough practice and preseason snaps to probably seriously contend for the #2 job. A shot-gun QB in college, he’s still learning the basics of NFL footwork.

Because Shaun Draughn simply was not able to stay healthy, the running back situation is easier to figure out. Paul Perkins will be the starter. Shane Vereen will probably rival him for snaps/playing time. Orleans Darkwa will probably be the short-yardage back. Wayne Gallman is the developmental prospect who will probably struggle to be active on game day.

My guess it the top three tight ends are Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, and Jerell Adams. Will the Giants carry four? Or will they opt to go with a fullback (Shane Smith)? This is a HUGE game for Smith and tight ends Matt LaCosse and Will Tye.

At wide receiver, the Giants will surely sit Odell Beckham and probably Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Harris. It will be interesting to see if Sterling Shepard plays. Heading into camp, Tavarres King had the inside track to the #5 wide receiver position, but he has missed a lot of time. Is his job safe? Could the Giants only carry five receivers? Roger Lewis and Travis Rudolph are fighting for their NFL lives. Both have been “fortunate” to see many of the other contenders fall by the wayside due to injury (Darius Powe, Keeon Johnson, Kevin Snead, Kevin Norwood).

Lastly, this brings us to the Giants Achilles’ heel: the offensive line. Does McAdoo give the starting five extra time to prepare for the Cowboys? Or does he do what he did last year and only play the starters for about 10 snaps? Media and fans were excited to see Brett Jones replace John Jerry at right guard against the Jets, but Jerry was back at right guard with the first team this week at practice. Really, the questions here for this game is how many back-up offensive linemen do the Giants keep? And who? They will surely be actively scanning the waiver wire for upgrades. Jones may not be safe. He’s probably fighting Jon Halapio for the reserve center/guard spot. Is D.J. Fluker are sure thing? He may not bring a lot of versatility in terms of position interchangeability and he did not appear to seriously challenge Jerry. Undrafted rookie free agent Chad Wheeler has out-performed 6th-round pick Adam Bisnowaty. Do both, one, or none of these two make it?

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The starting defense is ready. Ben McAdoo would be crazy to play his best defensive players, specifically Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Landon Collins. Factor in that injured players Eli Apple, Michael Hunter, Jay Bromley, and Keenan Robinson won’t play and Giants fans should not read anything in terms of the team’s defensive performance against the Patriots. Other than possibly Donte Deayon, none of the corners playing in this game will make the team. (Let that sink in before you starting bitching on the game thread about our secondary).

The injury to Jay Bromley complicates things for the Dallas game. Bromley says he will be ready, but players usually are overly optimistic with the press. Dalvin Tomlinson or Robert Thomas may be seeing more snaps in the opener than expected.

At end, we know who the starters are. Kerry Wynn seems to be in the lead for the top reserve defensive end spot, but none of the reserves have really stood out as pass rushers in the preseason. Romeo Okwara, Devin Taylor, and Avery Moss have been quiet. One guy who may have sneaked his way into the picture is DE/DT Jordan Williams. He has flashed. This game is an important contest to all of these players. While the Giants’ sub-par secondary is getting burned, it will be more important for fans to keep an eye up front to who almost gets to the quarterback.

At linebacker, Mark Herzlich has been sidelined for weeks with a neck injury. How serious is it? Might he end up on IR? That would open things up for other reserves and/or waiver wire pick-ups. The sure bets are Devon Kennard, Jonathan Casillas, B.J. Goodson, and Keenan Robinson. There is very little depth here, especially when you consider Robinson is already battling his second concussion of the preseason. J.T. Thomas should be thanking his lucky stars. One guy to watch is Calvin Munson.

At corner, again, I don’t think anyone playing in this game has a legit shot to make the team other than Donte Deayon – and he’s no sure thing either if the Giants see an upgrade on the waiver wire. Don’t fret the CB play on Thursday night. That said, because guys like Nigel Tribune, DaShaun Amos, Tim Scott, Tay Glover-Wright, and Daniel Gray will be running around clueless, it will be tough to get a good read on the back-up safeties. I’ve been disappointed in Nat Berhe’s play this preseason. The Giants may be stuck with him, but again, I’d be checking out that waiver wire. The top three safeties obviously will be Collins, Darian Thompson (how much does he play in this game?), and Andrew Adams. None of the other reserve safeties have impressed (Duke Ihenacho, Ryan Murphy, Eric Pinkins, and Daniel Gray)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The place-kicker competition this preseason has been as good as I can ever remember. Neither has missed and both have impressively nailed kicks from 50+ yards. This literally may come down to the last kick. Dwayne Harris’ absence has meant we haven’t had a serious look at our return game this preseason.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Ben McAdoo on what he looks for in the 4th preseason game: “We want to give every player who’s on the bubble an opportunity to show what they can do.”

THE FINAL WORD:
I think this is a good football team. But the offensive line, running game, and place kicker could sabotage the season. There are also serious depth concerns at linebacker and safety. The ankle situations for Odell Beckham and Eli Apple could be a problem, at least in the short-term.

But this Giants defense may be the best the team has had since 2007, and maybe better. This is certainly the most talent group of receivers Eli Manning has had since 2011. This is a team that should be a serious Super Bowl contender.

As for this game, the key players to watch are the quarterbacks, place kickers, fullback versus reserve tight ends, defensive ends, and linebackers.

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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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