Preseason Game Preview: New York Giants at Detroit Lions, August 17, 2018
Most fans know that it is unwise to make too much out of preseason game, let alone the first preseason game. That said, other than the ground game, the New York Giants were clearly out-played by an 0-16 (albeit improving) Cleveland Browns team in the opener. Even though these are practice games, there is a psychological component involved here. The Giants were 3-13 last year. They are 0-1 in the preseason. It would be a nice psychological boost for the team to experience a winning locker room again. (It would also be nice for the fans). One could legitimately argue that, based off one game, the Giants still look like a rebuilding ball club that has hitched it’s wagon to a 37-year old quarterback while passing on a number of potential franchise quarterbacks in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Pat Shurmur has to be thrilled with the quantity and quality of the work accomplished this week in the three practices against the Detroit Lions. And the team came out of these practices with no serious injury issues. The best way to cap this week would be a solid performance on Friday night against the Lions and have that proverbial arrow moving up rather than down.
THE INJURY REPORT:
- RB Saquon Barkley (hamstring)
- WR Travis Rudolph (quad)
- TE Ryan O’Malley (ankle)
- DE R.J. McIntosh (unknown – Active/Non-Football Illness list)
- LB Connor Barwin (“soreness”)
- LB Thurston Armbrister (hamstring)
- CB Donte Deayon (hamstring)
- S Darian Thompson (hamstring)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The only real highlights to come out of last week’s game was the ground attack. Saquon Barkley’s first run was a real eye-opener, not so much for the big gain but the series of moves he strung together in order to break out into the open field. Unfortunately, he will not play on Friday. This will provide an opportunity for Jonathan Stewart and Wayne Gallman to make their respective cases for #2 back. Neither was particularly productive against the Browns on the ground (combined eight yards on six carries) but Gallman was more of factor in the passing game (4 catches for 33 yards). He looks quicker and faster. There should also be more opportunities for guys who were pretty much regarded as “camp fodder” players, but who played well last week: Jalen Simmons (7 carries for 38 yards and a touchdown) and Robert Martin (5 carries for 39 yards). Could one of these two force their way onto the 53-man roster?
Overall, last week the Giants had 134 net yards rushing and averaged almost six yards per rush. That’s a good sign and a step forward for what has become a finesse team in recent years. The offensive line is still clearly a work in process, but it’s a start. At least the Giants were more physical.
Now to negative. I’ll keep saying it until the Giants prove me wrong: unless the Giants break a big play, they have problems sustaining drives. In recent years, the only big plays came from Odell Beckham. At least now they’ve added another big-play weapon in Saquon Barkley. But outside of Barkley’s 39-yard run, the first-team offense wasn’t good against the Browns. That bears watching moving forward. Can this offense string together four, five, six first downs and get the ball into the end zone? Forget breaking the 30-point barrier, even 20 points still seems to be an issue. With Barkley not playing against the Lions, and possibly Beckham, others need to step up and demonstrate they are legitimate first-string NFL talent. All of the positive plays in practice by Cody Latimer, Hunter Sharp, Kalif Raymond, etc. mean nothing unless it translates to actual games. Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram have to make more plays too. And Eli has to be more accurate, especially on screen passes.
Perhaps the biggest subplot this week is how Davis Webb responds to an atrocious performance against the Browns. Webb didn’t even look like a viable back-up, let alone potential future starter. Jumpy, nervous quarterbacks are worthless. He had better get that out of his system quickly. I would not be shocked to see the Giants cut him if this crap continues. This new regime has no ties to him.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
We’ll start with the good news first again. Every defensive coordinator in football will tell you their #1 priority is stopping the run. Last week, the Giants held Cleveland to paltry 50 yards rushing (15 of which came from the QBs) and 1.5 yards per rush. The Giants were clearly the more physical team up front. That’s a positive start for a Giants defense that was 27th against the run in the NFL in 2017. As hoped and expected, the Giants defensive line is very tough to move out and the team looks to have some decent depth.
The bad news were the pass rush and pass coverage – which go hand-in-hand. The Giants only accrued one sack (by reserve Robert Thomas) and three quarterback hits last week. More was expected, particularly by the starting and reserve outside linebackers. By all accounts, Olivier Vernon has had a great camp. But it didn’t translate to the playing field last week. Same story with Connor Barwin, who is now not playing due to “soreness.” Lorenzo Carter and Kareem Martin were too quiet. If the Giants’ outside backers aren’t effective rushing the passer, this defense is going to have issues stopping opposing quarterbacks.
This brings us to pass coverage. Last year the Giants were 31st in pass defense. In a limited number of snaps, the Browns were successfully able to attack both Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple outside the hashmarks. Both played the man rather than the ball and got burned. Folks have been saying Jenkins has had a strong camp, but I keep noticing big plays against him in practice too where he isn’t turning to play the ball. And we’ve all know this has been an ongoing issue with Apple. The scary news is that despite this, these are two guys the Giants simply can’t afford to lose right now because they team has zero depth behind them. The loss of Sam Beal is looking bigger by the day. And like the offensive line, the secondary still has the appearance of a 2-year rebuilding project.
That all said, the pass coverage over the middle remains the primary liability of the New York Giants defense. It’s been a problem for years and it was a problem last week. Sy’56 correctly harped on it in his game review. Alec Ogletree was supposed to add athleticism to the inside linebacking spot, but he was burned for a long touchdown against the Browns and had issues in practice this week when covering tight ends. With Curtis Riley out last week, Darian Thompson started at free safety and he did not distinguish himself. Now he’s hurt and Riley is back so let’s see if Riley – a former cornerback – is an improvement. If the Giants are going to compete against a team like the Philadelphia Eagles, they need to be able to cover tight ends and running backs better.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Through one week of preseason action, 45 punters have punted. Riley Dixon has punted a league-high 10 times, but is only 21st in average (44.2 yards per punt) and 26th in net average (39.7 yards per punt). Aldrick Rosas did make a 42-yard field goal.
Kalif Raymond did have a 14 yard punt return and Hunter Sharp a 42-yard kickoff return. Kickoff coverage wasn’t good as the Browns had two kickoff returns of 30 yards or more.
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Pat Shurmur on Davis Webb against the Lions: “I think young players tend to improve. It was his first time in our system (last week), playing really in a new system. So yeah, I certainly hope he’s better (this week).”
THE FINAL WORD:
As long as I’ve been a fan, I’ve never come to a definitive conclusion about the importance of the preseason. But I do know that I will become increasingly nervous if the Giants lay another egg this week. The offense needs to demonstrate an ability to sustain drives and get the ball into the end zone. The defense needs to get the other team off of the field and stop giving up big passing plays.