Preseason Game Preview: New York Giants at New York Jets, August 24, 2018
The media-driven storyline for this game will undoubtedly be “should the Giants have drafted Sam Darnold instead of Saquon Barkley?” which will be partially deflected by the fact that Barkley won’t be playing due to his hamstring strain. That is a valid question from a long-term strategic sense, but not in terms of the immediate, short-term implications of this game. But that won’t stop the media so ignore them.
Folks who have read this site for a long time know I usually downplay the importance of the preseason. Not this year with the new regime and the potentially fragile state of mind of team coming off of disastrous season. I believe the win over the Detroit Lions last week was very important, not just because of the final score board, but the convincing fashion in which the Giants out-played the Lions without three of their most important players playing. So now we have one bad performance against the Cleveland Browns and one good one against the Lions. Can the Giants build upon their success or will they regress in the third preseason game? The third game is universally considered the main test run for the regular season.
THE INJURY REPORT:
- RB Saquon Barkley (hamstring)
- RB Jalen Simmons (concussion)
- DE R.J. McIntosh (unknown – Active/Non-Football Illness list)
- LB Connor Barwin (knee)
- LB Calvin Munson (concussion)
- S Darian Thompson (hamstring)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Pat Shumur made a very unusual decision last week to not play Eli Manning in the second game. Coaches will sometimes sit old, established veterans in the first and fourth preseason games, but not often the second or third. This is especially true for a quarterback like Eli who is learning a new offensive system with new terminology. Right or wrong, Shurmur must think Manning doesn’t need much live game work before September 9th. Factoring into this situation is the decision to sit Odell Beckham, Jr. for probably a couple of different reasons (contract, previous injury) and Saquon Barkley’s hamstring issue. It’s appears that these big three will enter the 2018 regular-season with very little live-game preparation. That’s a bit unnerving.
Other than possibly a drive or two against the Patriots in the preseason finale, this will probably be Eli’s preseason action. The passing game against the Browns with him at the helm was not a well-oiled machine. It would be encouraging to see Eli – with or without Odell – being more productive in keeping the chains moving and putting points up on the scoreboard. I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t play at least a half. Stating the obvious, what we don’t want to see is him under duress, looking uncomfortable in the pocket with legitimate or phantom pressure, and being inaccurate.
The first-string offensive line also needs the work. Remember, these are five new starters at five new positions. It’s impossible for them to have enough chemistry and cohesion after about 20 practices together. Picking up stunts and blitzes is complicated business. Same with coordinating your blocks in the running game. We’ve already seen some potential red flags with pressure coming free up the middle and continued shakiness from Ereck Flowers.
At receiver, the same question remains: other than Odell Beckham, Jr., do the Giants have enough weapons outside to concern the opposing defense? Sterling Shepard is one of those guys who teases, but can he become a consistently productive player game-in and game-out? Can he make plays DOWN the field? Is Cody Latimer ready for a breakout season or is he just a special teams player? Can the Giants REALLY rely on Hunter Sharp and Kalif Raymond to make plays in the regular season with the game on the line? What we do not want to see is the Giants’ first-string offense stall against the Jets with Eli not being able to connect with any of these guys. That’s what happened against the Browns.
I don’t know if this is true or not, but one gets the sense that the Giants are not overly concerned with Saquon Barkley not getting any preseason action other than the few snaps he saw against the Browns. I hope they are right. Rookies need real-game practice time. If Barkley is a major factor from the get-go on September 9th, he truly is a special player. Regardless, without Barkley, the first-team offense did not run the ball very well against the Lions. It appears that Wayne Gallman should be ahead of Jonathan Stewart on the depth chart and this game will provide another indication on whether or not that should be the case. This is also a big game for Robert Martin, especially with Jalen Simmons out.
Lastly, it will be interesting to see how Davis Webb plays after examples of the previous two extremes.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Take away the two big passing plays to David Njoku and Theo Riddick against Alec Ogletree and most fans would be very pleased about the play of the starting defense. To Ogletree’s defense, those are very tough match-ups for any linebacker. But his play in coverage may be the #1 issue Giants’ fans are watching in this game. It’s interesting to note that Ray-Ray Amstrong was promoted this week to first-team nickel defense, not to replace Ogletree, but B.J. Goodson. So let’s see how that plays out.
The pass rush showed signs of life last week too, but we still do not have enough of a sample size. Perhaps the #1 highlight last week was Olivier Vernon looking LT-like in beating three men to the quarterback on one play. Kareem Martin and Lorenzo Carter also flashed as Connor Barwin continues to sit with a knee issue. The Giants are likely to get a good push inside from Dalvin Tomlinson, Damon Harrison, and B.J. Hill, who have also been stalwarts against the run. The Browns and Lions simply couldn’t move them. Heading into camp, I thought Kerry Wynn would be the odd man out, being a bit of ‘tweener in this defense. Wynn has a history of playing well in the preseason and then disappearing in the regular season, but this year may be different. He’s been all over the field, including on special teams.
Like Ereck Flowers on offense, Eli Apple continues to make Giants’ fans nervous on defense. Both players are so up and down. But as of now, the Giants have little option but to play them unless either completely falls apart. For the second week in a row, Curtis Riley will start at free safety with the injury-prone Darian Thompson continuing to disappoint. Focus on him as well as William Gay, B.W. Webb, and the injury-prone Donte Deayon. These three players may be critical to the defense this year.
My guess is even with the heavy blitzing we’ve seen at times in the preseason, James Bettcher is not showing his cards yet. So take some of what you see with the front seven with a grain of salt. But I’m not sure he can scheme enough to protect the secondary so that’s where my focus will be in this game.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The 55-yard field goal from Aldrick Rosas was very encouraging. But we always knew he had the leg. What we need is the consistency. Don’t miss the 35 yarder. It might not be a bad thing for a drive to stall in field goal range in this game. We need a better read on Rosas.
Hunter Sharp muffed a punt return last week. Kalif Raymond has an issue with fumbles. The return game still appears very unsettled.
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Pat Shurmur on how he handles the players after each game: “They’ll come in (after the game), we’ll watch the tape, settle all debts. That way if they are a little angry with me they can go home on their off day, simmer down and come back.”
THE FINAL WORD:
Obviously, the Giants want to come out this game healthy, but the things I’ll be focusing on are the play of (1) Eli Manning, (2) the starting offensive line, and (3) the secondary.