Odell Beckham – © USA TODAY Sports Images
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New York Giants – New York Jets
Preseason results are often meaningless. But coming off of back-to-back 7-9 and 6-10 seasons, coaches, players, media, and fans are looking for reasons to be hopeful in 2015. With only one preseason game left to play and the starters unlikely to play more than two series in New England, there are ominous storm clouds on the horizon with the New York Giants.
The basic problem for the Giants is this: the defense looks awful. If the team has any shot at the playoffs, the offense is going to have to carry this team by being one of the best in the NFL. However, the starting offense has looked pedestrian as best. Worse, despite another supposed infusion of talent in the offseason, special teams remains a weakness.
Right now, based on what we’ve seen on the playing field, the Giants appear to be one of the league’s worst teams. And an injury-plagued one with little depth at that. The odds are that Tom Coughlin and his staff will be fired at the end of the season, but Jerry Reese and his college and pro personnel talent evaluators will get a pass.
The Giants still have issues consistently running the football. Offensive line instability due to injuries to Weston Richburg and Geoff Schwartz has been a factor as well as playing against some strong and physical defensive fronts in the preseason. But the bigger issue is that Eli Manning and his receivers have not played particularly well. The Giants starting offense has had one really good drive this preseason and that was aided by three Jets penalties and the officials missing an incomplete 3rd-down pass.
Other than this 14-play, 85-yard effort, the first-team offense had two first downs and 32 yards on their other four possessions against the Jets. Worse, they handed the Jets a defensive score. If the Giants offense doesn’t become a scoring machine this season, the Giants are in deep trouble. Right now, they look far from elite status.
The expectation is that 2015 will be one of Eli Manning’s very best seasons, that he would once again approach his 2011 level of play. The early returns have been disappointing. Yes, Eli was 12-of-16 against a very good Jets defense. But he personally caused a 14-point swing in the game. He badly missed a wide open Odell Beckham on what should have been a 70-yard touchdown. Worse, he made an incredibly stupid decision to throw the ball short in the middle of the field with less than 20 seconds left and no timeouts. Even had James Jones come back to catch the ball at the Jets 41-yard line, there was not enough time to run another play to get into field goal range. There was nothing to gain from that throw. Stupid, inexcusable play by a quarterback who wants to be one of the top paid in the NFL. Also keep in mind that Manning hasn’t thrown a pass over 19 yards this preseason.
Ryan Nassib has out-played Eli Manning. Yup, I said it. And Nassib has done it with far shakier pass protection, demonstrating less fear of the pass rush. If I’m the Giants, I’m not sure I sign Eli Manning to a long-term contract right now. I let him play out the 2015 season and let the new coaching staff decide whether they want him or not. The Giants have the cap room to Franchise him. The new regime can then decide whether to trade him or extend his contract. The Giants won’t do this, but Eli is still making too many idiotic decisions in his 12th season for me to hand over $100 million without him playing better.
I’m a big fan of Manning. I think he’s the best quarterback to ever play for the franchise. But if the Giants give him $100 million and he’s no more than a middle-of-the-pack quarterback at age 34, they will be stuck with him for better or worse because salary cap ramifications will make it impossible to trade or cut him.
As for Nassib, he had his second strong performance in a row and would have had an even bigger night had his receivers helped him out more. That said, he does need work on his deep passing. He was off on three deep throws.
Rashad Jennings – © USA TODAY Sports Images
It’s been a weird preseason for the running backs. The headliners Rashad Jennings (12 carries in three games, 9 of which came against the Jets for 28 yards), Shane Vereen (8 carries, 4 receptions in three games), Andre Williams (7 carries in three games) have not received many touches. So it’s been hard for them to get into a rhythm or for us to get a good feel for their play. Each has flashed at times. Jennings had a 12-yard run where he could done more damage had he been able to keep his feet. Vereen looked very good on a swing pass that picked up 19 yards. It will be interesting to see how Tom Coughlin and Ben McAdoo use Jennings and Williams. I hope they allow one of these two to get into a rhythm in games and not constantly rotate them.
Meanwhile, Orleans Darkwa (20 carries in three games) has been receiving the most action. He looks like a legitimate NFL player who can make something out of nothing when carrying the ball. Could he actually be the best back on the team? Akeem Hunt has flashed enough (including a 15-yard run against the Jets) to ensure a place on the Practice Squad.
The good news is that Odell Beckham finally got his first catches of the preseason. But his five receptions went for a paltry 31 yards (6.2 yards per catch). He would have had a much bigger night had he been able to keep his feet in-bounds on another superb one-handed effort and had Eli Manning not badly missed him on what should have been a 70-yard touchdown reception against Darrelle Revis. Beckham’s 8-yard reception on 3rd-and-3 on the TD drive hit the ground.
The bad news is Victor Cruz has yet to play this preseason. We still don’t know if he will be ready for the opener. Rueben Randle has had an awful preseason. He only played three snaps in the first game, was held out the second game, and had one catch for seven yards against the Jets. Not good, especially since we still don’t know how much his knee tendinitis will affect him the rest of the year.
Preston Parker continues to see a lot of game-day action with little to show for it (1 catch for 5 yards and one false start penalty). James Jones had four catches for 54 yards but was involved in both team turnovers (first, he didn’t come back for the ball on Eli’s pick 6; second, he fumbled the ball away after a 15-yard reception to the Jets’ 19-yard line).
Geremy Davis was targeted six times, coming down with three catches for only 19 yards. His best play was his 15-yard reception on 3rd-and-10 on the last TD drive. Dwayne Harris has caught one pass for seven yards, but also had a bad drop. After an explosive preseason last year, Corey Washington only has three catches for 25 yards in three games despite playing a lot. Julian Talley made a superb, diving effort on the 2-point conversion.
Adrien Robinson – © USA TODAY Sports Images
Larry Donnell has not done much this preseason (4 catches for 34 yards, 1 catch for 5 yards against the Jets). He did not block well as an up back in this game. Despite more targets in the passing game, Adrien Robinson (4 catches for 19 yards in three games) still looks like a cumbersome athlete, but he did draw a 9-yard pass interference penalty on 3rd-and-8 on the first TD drive. That said, Robinson really didn’t help his cause with his lackluster run and pass blocking.
The two sharpest guys seem to have been Jerome Cunningham (3 catches for 58 yards, two defensive pass interference penalties in three games) and Daniel Fells (1 catch for 21 yards against the Jets). Cunningham needs to improve as a blocker. Had he stayed with his assignment on Jennings’ 12-yard run, Jennings probably would not have been tripped up. But he made a very athletic play on his 24-yard reception up the seam on the final TD drive of the game. He then capped that off that drive with a 6-yard touchdown catch. Fells remains the most consistent blocker at tight end.
John Jerry started at right guard but Jerry and Geoff Schwartz switched off at the position all night. It’s pretty obvious that the Giants are trying to work Schwartz back into the starting line up at that position if his surgically-repaired ankle holds up. Though he was a bit shaky early, Schwartz was in the game during the team’s best drive of the preseason. The line seems steadier with him in the game, although for a big man he sometimes has issues with power. The problem with Jerry in the ground game is he simply does not sustain his run blocks, this was an issue even on Akeem Hunt’s 15-yard run in the 4th quarter.
Left tackle Ereck Flowers continues to improve each week. He is everything as advertised in the run game. There were too many mistakes from left guard Justin Pugh, who gave up a sack and two penalties. The first penalty (illegal use of hands) and sack helped to stall the second drive; the second penalty (false start) pushed the Giants back on the pick-6 possession at the end of the first half. Pugh also missed a block on a screen pass to Vereen.
Dallas Reynolds started at center in place of the injured Weston Richburg and performed adequately against a tough opponent. He is playing much better than he did during his first two years with the Giants. Marshall Newhouse has been just adequate at right tackle. He’s not a good run blocker despite his size.
The second-team line featured Emmett Cleary at left tackle, Adam Gettis at left guard, Brett Jones at center, Schwartz/Jerry at right guard, and Bobby Hart/Sean Donnelly at right tackle. Hart left the game late in the third quarter with an injury and was replaced by Donnelly. This group did a reasonable job although Gettis did give up a sack to first-team DE Sheldon Richardson and Donnelly had some issues in pass protection on the team’s last TD drive. Cleary had one false start and gave up a pressure late too.
Fans are going to have to accept that this is a bad defense. They can’t stop the run, they can’t rush the passer, and they can’t cover. It’s a group that lacks toughness, physicality, leadership, confidence, and swagger. Against the Jets, the Giants only had one sack (unblocked safety blitz), two quarterback hits, and no forced turnovers. The Jets rushed for 136 yards and journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 64 percent of his passes against the starting defense.
When one considers how the defense has struggled to stop Andy Dalton, Blake Bortles, and Ryan Fitzpatrick, let alone any running game, and you have to think other teams are licking their chops to face the once proud New York Giants defense.
The run defense remains a huge concern, but the Giants are also not getting any pass pressure.
Jerry Reese says that even without Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants have five quality defensive ends. So far, I don’t see it. George Selvie has been out with a knee injury. We still don’t know when he will return. In a continuing trend for the Giants to find new and interesting ways to hurt themselves, Robert Ayers somehow injured himself in game warm-ups. Damontre Moore started at left defensive end. He didn’t have a tackle, remains a liability against the run, and has not flashed enough as a pass rusher against NFL starters. Kerry Wynn (1 tackle) has been disappointing. He has to set the edge better against the run. He was a non-factor as a pass rusher. The Giants have been forced to start an aging, fading defensive tackle (Cullen Jenkins) at defensive end and he is clearly not well suited to the 4-3 end position.
The guy with the most upside is Owamagbe Odighizuwa. He should be starting. Odighizuwa doesn’t appear to have any pass rush moves, but he can occasionally get close the quarterback. More importantly, he’s the only defensive end on this team that appears capable of setting the edge against outside tackle rushing attempts.
Inside, Johnathan Hankins played a bit better this week, but the decision to start Markus Kuhn remains a curious one. At least Kenrick Ellis and Jay Bromley received playing time against the Jets starting offensive line. Both still seem to be better options than Kuhn. The Giants were much more stout against the run on the Jets third offensive possession when Kuhn sat and Bromley and Ellis played. Both did have issues on one 13-yard run up the gut on the Jets’ second TD drive (Damontre Moore was held on this play, causing it to be nullified). However, Ellis was flagged with a stupid unnecessary roughness penalty with a late hit on the next snap. Late in the first half, both Bromley and Jenkins (now playing DT) looked good against the run.
Jon Beason (knee), Jonathan Casillas (neck), and Mark Herzlich (concussion) did not play.
Devon Kennard is the best linebacker on the team. He, along with Odighizuwa and Hankins, appear to be one of the very few building blocks this team has in the front seven. But Kennard, Jameel McClain, and safety Jeromy Miles were badly confused by a simple head fake on the 24-yard screen pass for a touchdown.
As an illustration on how teams simply scheme the Giants defense, on the Jets first offensive play, the Jets ran play-action bootleg that both Damontre Moore and McClain bit on, leading to an uncontested 10-yard completion to start the game.
McClain and Kennard ran well to the football when the defensive line set the edge or wasn’t shoved back into their faces. McClain, Kennard, and safety Landon Collins also did a very good job of reading an end-around for a 1-yard loss. However, McClain couldn’t stop the running back on a 2-point conversion attempt despite having a clean shot at the ball carrier.
The Giants spent $10 million on a linebacker (J.T. Thomas) who struggles at the point-of-attack and apparently doesn’t know how to wrap up when he tackles. It’s nice that he played well against his former team last week, but he is being paid to show up for every game.
Unai’ Unga led the team in tackles with eight and played as early as the team’s first defensive series. His lack of size showed up in this game as he was carried by the ball carrier on a couple of late rushing attempts. Victor Butler didn’t help his cause by missing a tackle in the backfield.
The Giants are just dreadful at covering the middle of the field. This is on both the linebackers and safeties. Opposing quarterbacks are going to have a field day passing in the middle all year.
The good news is that Landon Collins (3 tackles, 1 penalty for illegal use of hands) and Cooper Taylor (3 tackles, 1 sack) finally got back on the field. Cooper flashed on his sack and sure tackle off a bootleg pass to the tight end.
Jeromy Miles isn’t playing well. He struggled against the run and, along with Jayron Hosley, got beat badly on the 18-yard touchdown pass in the 1st quarter. On the play before the TD, he got beat badly by WR Brandon Marshall for an 11-yard gain on 3rd-and-5 (though admittedly that’s a tough match-up for any safety).
Brandon Meriweather can hit and tackle, but he’s not real smooth in space. He awkwardly fell to the ground on a 24-yard completion over the middle in the 4th quarter.
Trumaine McBride – © USA TODAY Sports Images
This was the second game in a row where opposing quarterbacks have tested Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie deep multiple times without success. Prince Amukamara played in his first game this preseason. He got beat by Brandon Marshall for 16 yards on 2nd-and-11. Amukamara had good deep coverage on the very next play, but two plays later, he got badly turned around by Marshall again on a play that should have resulted in a first-down had not it been for a bad throw.
Hosley not only got beat for a touchdown, but he also lost contain on 12-yard run earlier on the first TD drive. He did follow that up with a good run force. Both Trumaine McBride and Trevin Wade played nickel corner. McBride missed a tackle near the line of scrimmage on a run that picked up seven yards at the end of the 1st quarter. Not sure who was responsible for the easy 25-yard completion to WR Eric Decker on the Jets second TD drive, but it appears to have been Wade.
Special Teams Overview
The Giants keep signing/drafting special teams studs, but the special teams continue to help the Giants lose games. That’s got to be on the coaching. The Giants may be scanning the waiver wire for a punter because they clearly are losing faith in Steve Weatherford or trying to send him a message. Robert Malone punted twice in this game and also served as a holder. While Malone got off a 67-yarder, he also punted straight down the middle of the field, something that was a big contributing factor on the 54-yard punt return for a touchdown.
The Giants spent $17 million on Dwayne Harris as a returner, but they apparently don’t know how to block for him. The Giants gave up 76 yards on two kickoff returns, including returns of 44 and and 32 yards. Not good.
Right now, Josh Brown is the only redeeming aspect on special teams. He hit another long field goal (48 yards).