Andre Williams – © USA TODAY Sports Images
New York Giants 17 – New England Patriots 9
The Giants and Patriots have been playing each other in the preseason finale for years. In a bit of a role reversal, it was the Giants who sat most of their top players while the Patriots actually played quarterback Tom Brady the entire first half. Surprisingly, a mostly second- and third-team defense forced three first-half turnovers and held Brady’s high-powered offense to just six points. Without Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, and behind continued shoddy blocking and poor back-up quarterbacking, the offense continued to struggle. But there was just enough good defense interspersed with some offensive production to come away with a 17-9 victory.
The Giants come out of the preseason mostly healthy. The primary health concerns are fullback/tight end Will Johnson (burner), linebacker Jonathan Casillas (ribs), and safety Darian Thompson (shoulder) – all of whom will hopefully be able to play against the Dallas Cowboys on September 11th.
The defense has made great strides, but will the offensive line flip a switch and play much, much better than it did in the four preseason games?
Giants on Offense
Quarterback Eli Manning, wide receiver Odell Beckham, and center Weston Richburg were healthy scratches.
Out of their seven first-half possessions, the Giants had two long drives: one a 15-play, 59-yard possession that ended with a 25-yard field goal; and the second a 6-play, 63-yard possession that ended with an interception at the Patriots 2-yard line with seven seconds left in the half. The Giants generated seven first downs on these two drives and just three first downs on the other five drives.
In the second half, the Giants had four drives (not counting the last one where the team was merely attempting to run out the clock). Two of these drives resulted in touchdowns and the two others with punts. The first scoring drive was a 4-play, 86-yard affair with the big play coming on the 59-yard catch-and-run by wideout Tavarres King. The second scoring drive was a 13-play, 79-yard march that ended with a 17-yard touchdown reception by wide receiver Roger Lewis.
Ryan Nassib – © USA TODAY Sports Images
Eli Manning was a healthy scratch.
Heading into the last year of his rookie contract, this was a terrible preseason for Ryan Nassib. He obviously regressed from his strong 2015 preseason. Why? He’s in the same system and received far more playing time with the first unit than he ever has. Frank Cignetti, Jr. became the new quarterback coach this offseason but it’s hard to believe that Cignetti would be the reason. Regardless, Nassib did not play with a lot of confidence and never looked terribly comfortable. He played with poor offensive lines in his three other preseasons. Oddly, his arm strength was terribly inconsistent. Nassib’s touch and accuracy just appeared off in all four games. Nassib finished this game 16-of-29 for 210 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.
Nassib did have his moments, like his well-thrown 13-yard out to WR Sterling Shepard in the 1st quarter and his 9-yard throw to WR Tavarres King in the 2nd quarter. At least three of his deep sideline throws were out-of-bounds. Nassib was also fortunate that a Patriots penalty erased a fumble on play where he should have thrown the ball away or simply fallen to the ground.
Logan Thomas entered the game mid-way through the 4th quarter and led the Giants on a 13-play, 79-yard, 6-minute touchdown drive that put the game away. Thomas was 3-of-5 for 39 yards and a well-thrown 17-yard touchdown pass. All that said, Thomas never threatened the struggling Nassib in training camp and the preseason. He also fumbled a shotgun snap on the touchdown drive that was fortunately recovered.
Bobby Rainey (7 carries for 38 yards, 3 catches for 37 yards), Orleans Darkwa (9 carries for 37 yards), and Andre Williams (10 carries for 35 yards) all had their moments against the Patriots. Paul Perkins had 3 catches for 29 yards, but also fumbled the ball away on one of his two carries and dropped a pass. Both Darkwa and Williams impressed with their tough running between the tackles despite less-than-ideal run blocking. Rainey had some decent runs out of the shotgun formation and is a more slippery runner and receiver.
Odell Beckham was a healthy scratch.
Victor Cruz only played nine snaps. He got little separation on two deep routes against corner Malcolm Butler on the first series, including the only time the ball was thrown his way (incomplete). Same story against corner Logan Ryan on the first play of the next series. He was open on a drag route but the ball went elsewhere. Cruz’s best play came when he then beat Butler with a quick move at the line and got behind him. However, Nassib didn’t see the wide open Cruz.
Sterling Shepard didn’t play long. He caught 1-of-2 passes thrown in his direction for 13 yards. His first opportunity was a deep pass also against Butler, but like Cruz, Shepard could not create any separation. Two plays later, Shepard picked up the first down with an out route on 3rd-and-10.
The leading wide receivers were Tavarres King (4 catches for 80 yards and a touchdown), Roger Lewis (3 catches for 30 yards and a touchdown), and Geremy Davis (3 catches for 30 yards). King’s 59-yard catch-and-run was the play of the night as he easily ran away from two defenders. Lewis had a 7-yard reception on 3rd-and-5, King a 4-yard reception on 3rd-and-2, and King a 9-yard reception on 3rd-and-6 on the Giants field goal drive. Lewis couldn’t handle one fastball on a crossing pattern. Davis made a couple of outstanding sideline catches including a 16-yard back-shoulder reception.
Tight Ends/Offensive Line
Interestingly, the Giants decided to sit Weston Richburg as a healthy scratch with Brett Jones getting the start at center. Had Justin Pugh (shoulder) not missed so much time, he probably would have sat too. The other three starters – Ereck Flowers, John Jerry, and Marshall Newhouse – need the work.
The starters – minus Richburg – only played nine plays. After decent pass protection on the first pass play, the next left-side running play lost four yards. On 3rd-and-14, both tackles allowed pressure on Nassib, whose arm was hit as he threw. Both Flowers and Newhouse allowed pressure on the next drive on the same play. Brett Jones then failed to spot the inside blitz as Nassib was sacked just after he received the snap.
The second-team offensive line featured LT Bobby Hart, LG Adam Gettis, OC Brett Jones, RG Emmett Cleary, and RT Ryan Seymour – as the Giants were clearly trying to determine which linemen were the most versatile. Later Gettis played center and Jones left guard. I’m not sure there is a viable NFL player in this group. Gettis in particular struggled in pass protection. The interior had issues identifying inside dogs. Hart couldn’t make his block on a running play that lost three yards and didn’t appear very physical or powerful overall playing on the left side. He later gave up a sack on 3rd-and-2 in the 4th quarter. Cleary was flagged with a holding penalty on a running play in the 3rd quarter.
The tight ends did a much better job of blocking this week. That said, I would like to see Donnell sustain his blocks longer and keep his man out of the play. In the receiving department, Donnell was targeted three times with one catch for 30 yards. Jerell Adams had one pass thrown in his direction but did not have a reception. Will Tye was not targeted.
Giants on Defense
The Giants sat their best defensive players. Defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Vernon Olivier, defensive tackles Damon Harrison and Johnathan Hanks, and cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie did not play. Neither did the walking wounded: linebacker Jonathan Casillas (ribs), linebacker Jasper Brinkley (knee), linebacker B.J. Goodson (concussion), cornerback Leon Hall (concussion), and safety Darian Thompson (shoulder).
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady played the entire first half against mostly a second- and third-team Giants defense that performed admirably well. In six first-half Patriots drives, the Giants forced three turnovers and allowed only one scoring drive: a 9-play, 67-yard effort that ended with a 7-yard touchdown pass by Brady. The 2-point conversion attempt failed.
The Giants defensive reserves remained stingy in the second half, allowing only one scoring drive: a 16-play, 66-yard march that resulted in a 32-yard field goal. Three other drives ended with punts and one drive on downs.
With the entire starting defensive line sitting, the starters on Thursday night were left defensive end Kerry Wynn, defensive tackles Louis Nix and Jermelle Cudjo, and right defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa. Wynn got a few good early pass pressures on Brady and finished with two QB hits. Romeo Okwara also continued to flash with his pass rush. Odighiuwa had two quarterback hits as did Montori Hughes, Stansly Maponga, and Jay Bromley. In all, the Giants reserve defensive line had an astounding 11 quarterback hits (this doesn’t count numerous other QB pressures). For example, Okwara got good pressure on the Patriots failed 2-point conversion attempt.
Hughes also recovered a fumble. Odighizuwa tipped a pass. Wynn forced a fumble ending a Patriots drive deep in Giants territory, hustling all of the way from the opposite side of the field. Cudjo penetrated to tackle the running back for a 3-yard loss in the 2nd quarter and chased down the back for a 2-yard loss in the 3rd quarter. An unblocked Okwara picked up a sack after the former play by Cudjo.
In the 3rd quarter, Jay Bromley and Louis Nix combined to nail the back for a 1-yard loss. Hughes also looked good stuffing one inside run and had a 4th quarter sack. Cudjo tipped a 3rd down pass early in the 4th quarter on a play where Odighizuwa smashed into the quarterback.
Jonathan Casillas (ribs), Jasper Brinkley (knee), and B.J. Goodson (concussion) did not play. The Giants started the game in their nickel package with linebackers Kelvin Sheppard and Keenan Robinson on the field.
Sheppard was flagged with a defensive holding call on an incomplete 3rd-and-13 pass. Robinson followed this up with nice coverage on TE Martellus Bennett who was split out wide. On the Patriots scoring drive, it appeared that Sheppard got illegally picked on a 30-yard reception by the running back. Mark Herzlich recovered a fumble in the 2nd quarter and ran through the blocking back for a 7-yard sack in the 3rd quarter. Herzlich had a shot at another sack on the next series but overran the QB who scrambled for a 12-yard gain. Two plays later, the Pats back broke off a 16-yard run as he squirted past Herzlich who got blocked on the left-side run. Later on this drive he was flagged with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for a late hit. J.T. Thomas seemed a step slow this week both against the run and the pass. Brad Bars simply doesn’t look athletic enough in space.
Nat Berhe – © USA TODAY Sports Images
Starting corners Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were healthy scratches. Cornerback Leon Hall (concussion) and safety Darian Thompson (shoulder) also did not play.
Starting the game at corner were Eli Apple, Trevin Wade, and Donte Deayon (nickel). Landon Collins started at strong safety and Nat Berhe at free safety.
Wade and Apple had strong games. Wade expertly caused a 3-yard loss on a WR-screen on the Patriots’ first offensive snap. Apple then had excellent deep coverage on WR Julian Edelman deep. A few snaps later, Wade did a tremendous job of reading the route, reacting to the throw, and coming away with an interception of Tom Brady. Later in the quarter, Deayon gave up a 16-yard reception on 3rd-and-7. Collins did a nice job of reading a short 3rd-and-2 pass but misplayed the ball on a play where he should have picked off Brady and possibly scored. Later in the 1st quarter, Wade made a sure tackle in space after a short throw. Apple had solid deep coverage on the very next snap. The Patriots finished up this drive with a touchdown when Apple got hung up with Adam Andrews with two Pats receivers bunched to one side.
Safety Andrew Adams was credited with a forced fumble, but the intended receiver really just dropped the ball on his own. Corner Michael Hunter got beat on a slant and then a 38-yard deep pass in the 2nd quarter, though he stayed with his man on another deep shot into the end zone on the next snap and later knocked down another Brady deep pass on 3rd-and-20. Deayon missed a couple of tackles after the catch in the 3rd quarter. Corner Leon McFadden got successfully targeted a couple of times and was fortunate he wasn’t called for pass interference on a late deep shot into the end zone on 4th-and-1.
Giants on Special Teams
Josh Brown did not play as the Giants prepped Randy Bullock for the opener. Three-of-four of Bullock’s kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. The Patriots returned one kickoff 25 yards, but they were holding on the play. Bullock also made his only field goal effort: a 25-yarder.
Bobby Rainey returned two punts, one for 13 yards and one for three yards. He returned one kickoff for 32 yards. Dwayne Harris did not return any punts or kickoffs.
Brad Wing punted seven times, averaging 44.1 yards per punt with one touchback and one punt downed at the 6-yard line. Punt coverage continues to remain a problem as the Giants allowed a 34 yard punt return with the gunner, Tavarres King, missing the initial tackle.