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Eli Manning and Shane Vereen, New York Giants (August 22, 2015)

Eli Manning and Shane Vereen – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 22 – Jacksonville Jaguars 12

Game Overview

Like most preseason games, there was good and there was bad. But the big take-away from this game is the continued mounting injury situation that is likely to impact the 2015 season. Some of the players who have been lost for the season probably were not going to make the team such as wide receiver Marcus Harris (knee) and safety Justin Currie (ankle). But the Giants have now lost two safeties who were receiving first-team reps in Mykkele Thompson (Achilles) and Bennett Jackson (knee). This is in addition to weird losses of defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (hand/arm) and left tackle Will Beatty (pectoral).

Heading into the second preseason game, the Giants were missing 18 players on the roster due to injury. They came out with six more injured, two done for the season and fingers crossed on Jon Beason (knee sprain). They’ll get most of these players back, but the hits have been already significant for a thin team projected by many to struggle.

And the coaching staff have made two decisions in the preseason that have come back to bite them in the ass. The first was to play wide receiver Rueben Randle last week in Cincinnati despite him missing the week of practice before the game with knee tendinitis. That set him back. And despite the dwindling numbers at safety, it should have been either Justin Halley or Brandon Meriweather in the game late in the 4th quarter against the Jaguars and not Bennett Jackson, who had a good chance to be the team’s starter on opening night against Dallas.

Offensive Overview

On the surface, it was another disappointing performance for the first-team unit. With Eli Manning at quarterback, the first team played three drives and the results were 76 yards, five first downs, two punts, and a 51-yard field goal. But it was the passing game, especially quarterback Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, who let the Giants down early. Meanwhile, those supposed areas of concern – the offensive line and the running game – showed promise. If one believes that this was only a hiccup for Manning and Beckham, and that the healthy return of Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle will make a difference, then there were some positive developments on Saturday despite the lack of production.

The second- and third-team offensive units performed decently, scoring on their first four drives of the second half as the Giants pulled away.

Quarterbacks

I don’t really worry about Eli Manning, but if we are going to fairly evaluate his performance, this was not a good effort. Yes, he was the victim of some short-arming by Beckham and drops by Beckham and Preston Parker. He also had a couple of passes batted or tipped at the line of scrimmage. But Manning’s accuracy was off when pressured. The word coming into training camp was that Manning was primed for a huge year with renewed arm strength and building confidence in Ben McAdoo’s system. But that hasn’t translated yet to the field. If the Giants are going to make the playoff this year, Eli Manning will have to carry them there like he did in 2011. And he has to make plays when not given picture-perfect pass protection. We’re not seeing that level of play yet.

The Giants tried to get the passing game going early as Manning threw deep to Beckham without success on their first two plays. The first five plays were pass plays where Manning was 1-for-4 with two tipped passes. Manning continued to target Beckham and Parker without success on the two ensuing drives. Manning finished the game a paltry 4-of-14 for 46 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions.

Ryan Nassib, New York Giants (August 22, 2015)

Ryan Nassib – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Ryan Nassib played much better this week, finishing the game 19-of-35 for 217 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. That said, he did make some questionable decisions, missing some open receivers and throwing into coverage. Nassib’s mobility helped to extend some plays, including clutch moments to keep drives alive, but he also has to be careful not to run too soon when he has decent pass protection. That said, Nassib made some excellent throws on the run. He has a fastball and was particularly accurate on a few slants, including the touchdown pass to Dwayne Harris. Ex-Jaguar quarterback Mark Brunell was very impressed with Nassib during the game.

Running Backs

The stats seem a bit misleading as Giants running backs only gained 83 yards on 24 carries (3.4 yards per carry), but the big three of Rashad Jennings (1 carry for 4 yards), Andre Williams (3 carries for 13 yards), and Shane Vereen (3 carries for 13 yards) flashed and averaged over four yards per carry as a group. Williams made a nice, instinctive cut on his 11-yard run off the left side. He later had a very physical inside run in the 2nd quarter. Williams performed well in pass protection. Vereen caught one pass for 14 yards on 3rd-and-10 – a perfect example of why he was signed.

Orleans Darkwa also continues to impress, carrying the ball six times for 25 yards. Akeem Hunt had four carries for 10 yards, with a long run of seven yards. Long-shot Kenneth Harper had seven carries for 18 yards with a quality 9-yard run to help run out the clock. Darkwa had one catch for nine yards and Hunt two receptions for nine yards. Even fullbacks Henry Hynoski and Nikita Whitlock got into the act catching the ball as they each had one reception for five yards. Hunt missed a blitz pick-up late in the first half.

Wide Receivers

To be frank, “superstar” Odell Beckham played like crap. He made a business decision or two on deep throws where he short-armed the ball. He also had one ball sail through his hands and later dropped a pass that would have kept a drive alive and put the Giants at the 5-yard line. He got frustrated and took a cheap shot at a Jaguars defender. Overall, he was targeted five times with no catches.

With Victor Cruz (calf) and Rueben Randle out, Preston Parker started. Manning’s pass on Parker’s first opportunity was too low. But he later dropped a perfectly-thrown back-shoulder throw on 3rd-and-9. In the second quarter, Parker caught one key pass for 14 yards on 3rd-and-8 from Manning.

Corey Washington had two catches for 17 yards but also could not come down with a well-contested ball on 3rd-and-14. He did have a 6-yard reception on 3rd-and-3 in the third quarter.

More impressive were James Jones (5 catches for 83 yards), Geremy Davis (4 catches for 43 yards), and Dwayne Harris (2 catches for 35 yards and a touchdown). Jones was the best wide receiver on the field on Saturday night. He had two catches for 36 yards on the drive right before halftime (though he also dropped a ball too on this possession). Jones caught an 18-yarder on 3rd-and-4 in the 3rd quarter and an 13-yard catch on 3rd-and-6 in the 4th quarter.

Harris was flagged for a bogus holding call on a well-executed 19-yard screen pass to Orleans Darkwa. He did a nice job of catching a low throw despite contact on his touchdown reception.

Right now Jones, Davis, and Harris three would be my favorites to make the team with Parker and Washington being cut.

Tight Ends

Larry Donnell caught three passes for 29 yards. But some old troubling signs appeared in his game. He lost the ball after one big third down catch that originally was ruled an incomplete pass. Ball security Donnell! On the same drive, he had a high throw from Manning sail through his hands. Also, Donnell took another awkward quasi-somersault fall when being tackled. Donnell had a nice block on linebacker Paul Posluszny on Shane Vereen’s 10-yard run.

Jerome Cunningham was targeted twice with no catches, but he did draw a pass interference penalty. Daniel Fells got a good block on Darkwa’s 16-yard run early in the 3rd quarter.

Offensive Line

All things considered, the coaching staff has to be somewhat pleased with the progress the offensive line is making. However, there are just enough rough spots – particularly on the right side of the line – to keep the coaches and quarterbacks nervous.

Rookie left tackles – particularly ones who have serious technique issues – usually are disasters their initial season. But Ereck Flowers continues to hold his own (no pun intended) and improve. There were a couple of plays where his man got around him and pressured the quarterback, but he’s been surprisingly adequate in pass protection while flashing those advertised run-blocking mauling skills. The left side of the line created some big holes for the running backs, though guard Justin Pugh missed a block on an Andre Williams run that lost yardage in the second quarter. Flowers and Pugh also had some issues on a stunt late in the first half.

The right side of the offensive line hasn’t been the disaster predicted thus far. Marshall Newhouse did an adequate job pass protection for most of the first half. However, his pass blocking deteriorated late in the second quarter when he gave up one sack and a few pressures.

John Jerry continues to have some issues at right guard. He gave up a couple of pass pressures on New York’s second drive. And if Jerry (or Odell Beckham) had been able to take out the defensive back who made the tackle, Vereen would have scored from 44 yards out on his 10-yard run in the 1st quarter.

Geoff Schwartz entered the game in the second quarter at right guard. He was more steady than Jerry at that position. However, Schwartz had some issues when playing right tackle both in pass protection (bull-rushed on a 3rd-and-5 incomplete pass, failure to pick up stunt on 3rd-and-14) and the running game (got stood up and pushed back on one right-side run). The Giants also played Schwartz at right guard and Jerry at right tackle.

Dallas Reynolds saw a lot of snaps at center. Emmett Clearly and Adam Gettis formed the left side of the second-team line again. When Gettis briefly left with a stinger, Brett Jones played at left guard. These guys played pretty well although there was one run on the left side blown up by penetration against Cleary and Jones. Gettis was flagged with a holding penalty on running play that he got stood up on.

Another offensive line combination had Bobby Hart at right tackle and Bret Jones at right guard. Jones seems to lack size and power. Hart has both, but the same pass rusher who gave Marshall Newhouse some problems – DE Chris Smith – also gave Hart issues on one pass rush. Eric Herman later replaced Jones at right guard, but he immediately gave up a pass pressure on the play where Nassib did a fantastic job of avoiding a sack and getting the ball to Dwayne Harris for a 27-yard gain. Herman gave up another pressure later on this possession.

Guys like Michael Bamiro and Sean Donnelly didn’t enter the contest until late in the 4th quarter.

Defensive Overview

The Jacksonville Jaguars have been an offensively-challenged team, yet the Giants had issues getting them off the field on their first three drives of the game as Jacksonville had drives of 10, 10, and 12 plays – each resulting in field goals. The first-team defense still looks soft against the run and opposing starting quarterbacks are having a far too easy time completing passes. Sometimes it looks like a 7-on-7 drill out there with very little pass rush and soft coverage. That doesn’t bode well when the Giants face high-powered, multi-dimensional offenses like the Cowboys and Eagles.

The second- and third-teamers were clearly superior to the Jacksonville offensive counterparts as the Jaguars only gained three first downs in the first half after the first three drives, and only one first down in the second half until late in the game.

I made this point last week, but I’ll make it again – Steve Spagnuolo’s blitz packages are much better than Perry Fewell’s. It’s a night and day difference.

Defensive Line

The starting defensive line had Cullen Jenkins at left end, Markus Kuhn at left tackle, Johnathan Hankins at right tackle, and Robert Ayers at right end. Jenkins didn’t play well at end. As would be expected, he looked sluggish rushing the passer from that spot. But somewhat unexpectedly, he had a lot of issues defending the run there too. I’m not sure what the thinking is about having him play out there, especially in the preseason when guys like Damontre Moore, Kerry Wynn, and Owamagbe Odighizuwa should be seeing some first-team practice reps. Jenkins did get good pressure on the quarterback rushing from DT on 3rd-and-20.

Ayers was pretty invisible as a pass rusher and didn’t stick out in run defense either.

Kuhn should not be starting. Period. In fact, he should be fighting for a roster spot. The coaching staff is blind if they can’t see this. Lost in the fan criticism of Kuhn is that Hankins hasn’t been making as much noise as was expected from a guy who was supposed to be a budding Pro Bowl candidate. Hankins did not play well on Saturday night. The Giants starters are not playing tough up the gut right now. Hankins needs to kick it into gear and Kenrick Ellis and Jay Bromley should be splitting Kuhn’s first-team reps.

As soon as Bromley came into the game (against starting Jaguars offensive linemen), he made a play by shooting through the line and hitting the back in the backfield. In the second half, Ellis and Bromley really gummed things up inside against Jacksonville back-ups. Ellis got a couple of decent pass pressures on the quarterback.

Damontre Moore flashed on the pass rush with two sacks, but he still has issues at the point-of-attack on running plays. And another team took advantage of the defense’s young ends by running an end-around to his side on a play where he bit on the fake. This showed up too on play-action fake on a roll-out pass that Kerry Wynn bit too hard on in the 2nd quarter.

Odighizuwa batted down a pass at the line and also gave the Jaguar tackles some problems with his bull-rush. He is very quick off the ball too.

Jon Beason, New York Giants (August 22, 2015)

Jon Beason – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Linebackers

Before he left the game, an excited Jon Beason’s feet were pumping and he was correctly reading running plays. He was hurt by a defensive line in front of him that was getting pushed back however. Despite being picked, Beason did a good job of recovering and saving a touchdown on a pass to a receiver coming out of the backfield.

J.T. Thomas had a big night against his former team. He disrupted an otherwise well-blocked run on the Jaguars’ first drive. Thomas looked fast blitzing the quarterback and was rewarded with a sack/forced fumble (he also missed a tackle on another sack opportunity). Thomas later read and destroyed a screen pass for an 8-yard loss.

Kennard recovered a fumble. The good news about him is he doesn’t look completely out of water in pass coverage.

Unai’ Unga (6 tackles, 1 pass defense) was very active for the second week in a row. He did a nice job of shooting the gap and tackling the runner for no gain on a stretch play. I am hoping the Giants can find a roster spot for him. Victor Butler’s penetration on a running play may have been a factor in a Jaguars’ running back losing his concentration and fumbling the football.

Defensive Backs

Surprisingly the Jaguars took a number of deep shots at Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Not surprisingly, these plays were not a success for Jacksonville. Rodgers-Cromartie got picked (possibly illegally) on a 3rd-and-2 short crossing pass that picked up 36 yards in the first quarter. He was fortunate that his man who was open dropped the ball on a post route (Bennett Jackson seemed to misread the play here too).

As he has been all summer, cornerback Trevin Wade (who started for the injured Prince Amukamara) was up and down. Wade gave up a couple of first-down catches early. But he had good coverage on a deep shot down the middle. Wade seemed to be playing way off the ball, allowing too much space underneath.

Trumaine McBride, Mike Harris, and Josh Gordy played decently against Jacksonville’s struggling offensive reserves. McBride had good coverage on a deep pass late in the 2nd quarter but grabbed the receiver with his left arm before the ball arrived and was flagged for a 29-yard pass interference penalty. Harris also got flagged with a 5-yard defensive holding call on 2nd-and-8. The Giants corners were aggressive against the run on Saturday.

Brandon Meriweather, New York Giants (August 22, 2015)

Brandon Meriweather – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Bennett Jackson missed a tackle on 3rd-and-8 that would have prevented a first down. Jeromy Miles was pretty quiet…I’m not sure if that is a good thing or bad thing. He should have turned and intercepted the ball on the play where McBride was flagged for interference. Miles also missed a tackle near the line on a 12-yard run late in the 2nd quarter.

Brandon Meriweather looked vulnerable in deep coverage as a Jaguars receiver got behind him on one deep effort that fell incomplete.

Special Teams Overview

Steve Weatherford has not been punting well this preseason. He’s over-punting in situations where the Giants could down a punt inside the 20. He also isn’t showing much directional ability. His net on three punts was 36 yards.

Josh Brown, on the other hand, did well. He nailed kicks of 51, 43, 53, 37, and 28 yards. He did miss a 46-yarder but a penalty on the Jaguars wiped out that miss.

Giants continue to struggle on punt returns with Dwayne Harris returning two for seven yards and Preston Parker two for three yards. Akeem Hunt returned two kickoffs, each for 24 yards. Derrick Johnson had one return for 21 yards.

Punt coverage was good as the Jaguars only returned two punts for six yards. Kickoff coverage was not as solid as the Giants gave up returns of 42 and 35 yards.

(Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Giants, August 22, 2015)
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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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