Preseason Game Preview: New England Patriots at New York Giants, August 30, 2018
As the New York Giants wrap up the 2018 preseason, what have we learned? On paper – and based on limited on-field performance through three preseason contests – it appears the Giants will be a more competitive and better coached team. But given the abysmal, non-competitive 3-13 season the Giants are coming off of, that’s not saying much. How much better is the real question.
Defensively, because of their line, the Giants should be very stout against the run. But pass defense could be a problem as the team’s sole pass rusher with any kind of a resume is the oft-injured Olivier Vernon. Even more concerning is the corner position outside of Janoris Jenkins, the free safety position, and ability of the linebackers to cover backs and tight ends.
Offensively, the Giants have a set of skill position players that few – if any – teams in the NFL can employ. But questions remain about the team’s 37-year old quarterback and offensive line. Manning can still throw the football when he feels safe, but he’s got to prove he can still win football games after being hit in the mouth. The left tackle position has been upgraded, but how much of a problem will the center, right guard, and right tackle spots be? Will Saquon Barkley be dancing to find holes or will the line be able to consistently help him out? How much help will the Giants need to Ereck Flowers in pass protection?
On special teams, the Giants are going to roll the dice with Aldrick Rosas again. The return game could give us heartburn as the chief candidates have ball security issues.
Overall, this team has the feel of one that will regularly emphasized on highlight shows. We’ll see Odell Beckham, Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram, and Sterling Shepard make big, flashy plays. But will the team make enough of the less glamorous, consistent ones to win games? The defense will probably live and die by the blitz. We could see a lot of flashy big plays, but also long scores going in the other direction. The special teams still don’t seem special.
Taken together, that’s a recipe for an 8-8-type season. In a watered-down NFL filled with teams with poor fundamentals that can’t practice and spoiled millennials, that could be enough to sneak into the playoffs, especially if the Giants can steal a game or two. Much will also depend on how good or ordinary the coaching will be.
As for this game, I would not expect the starters to play much, if at all. Throughout the league, this final game has basically become a contest between back-ups, with coaches looking to avoid injuries to front-line starters while also making final evaluations on the lower third of the roster.
THE INJURY REPORT:
- TE Evan Engram (concussion)
- OG Nick Gates (foot)
- DE R.J. McIntosh (unknown)
- LB Olivier Vernon (ankle)
- LB Connor Barwin (knee)
- LB Calvin Munson (concussion)
- S Darian Thompson (hamstring)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
As I mentioned last week, I was surprised by the way Pat Shurmur handled Eli Manning this offseason. This is the third time in his career that Manning had to adjust to a new offensive system, but Shurmur handled Manning like he’s been in it for years. For better or worse, it’s clear Shurmur trusts Manning, who was basically only given half a preseason game (Jets) and two drives (Browns) to get ready for 2018. On top of all of that, arguably New York’s two best players – Odell Beckham and Saquon Barkley – didn’t play or barely played this preseason, albeit for different reasons. In a nutshell, the band hasn’t played together yet. That is a little unnerving, but it is also building anticipation for what this offense might be.
The offensive line hasn’t improved as much as hoped (yet?). The first-team unit has not been able to run the football with issues in the middle and right side of the line. This sounds hauntingly familiar. I think most fans correctly understand that the offensive line is the critical element in how good this offense can be. If Eli feels protected, he can still play. If the Giants don’t have to simply rely on the big play to score and maintain possession of the ball to keep drives alive, that gives more touches to Barkley, Beckham, Engram, and Shepard. More touches = more points. But the team has to be able to pick up first downs.
As for the back-ups:
Quarterback: For better or worse, Davis Webb will be the #2 guy and Kyle Lauletta #3. Webb may be the future, but if Eli goes down, the season is over in 2018. (No different than most teams).
Running Back: Wayne Gallman has clearly out-played Jonathan Stewart and should be the #2 back. If he isn’t, that’s a bad sign about the coaching staff. Some fans don’t think Stewart should be on this team, but it sounds like the coaching staff still wants him here. That leaves Jalen Simmons, Robert Martin, and Jhurell Pressley probably fighting for one roster spot. This game will probably decide it.
Wide Receiver: Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Cody Latimer will be the top three. I may be wrong, but I think all signs point to the Giants keep both Hunter Sharp and Kalif Raymond, as well as Russell Sheppard. Of course, someone coming free on the waiver wire could change that. Don’t be shocked if the Giants pick someone up here, especially if he has return ability.
Tight Ends: Obviously, Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison are the top two guys. And with Shurmur likely to run a plethora of 2-tight end sets, both are de facto starters. That would suggest the Giants might even keep four tight ends. However, Shumur could decide to carry three plus a fullback. This is a big game for Jerell Adams, Scott Simonson, and Shane Smith. Again, they are not just competing against themselves but the waiver wire.
Offensive Line: Trading away Brett Jones clarifies things a little. John Greco is now the primary center/guard swingman. John Jerry probably makes it unless a cheaper vet shakes loose somewhere else. Chad Wheeler has not progressed as hoped and is battling Nick Becton and the waiver wire for swing tackle. (Giants should seriously scan the waiver wire here).
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
When you are keeping your fingers crossed that Eli Apple doesn’t get hurt, you know you are scary thin at cornerback. If Janoris Jenkins were go down, this unit would immediately become the worst in the NFL. It’s also concerning that Olivier Vernon is hurt yet again. The range and cover ability of the linebackers and safeties remain issues until proven otherwise.
The good news? The Giants are big and strong up front. That’s the first place you want to start when building a defense.
Defensive Line: This unit is pretty much set. The starters are damn good and there is good depth with Josh Mauro, Robert Thomas, Kerry Wynn, and A.J. Francis. Mauro will start the year on a 4-game suspension. Unfortunately, 2018 will be a red shirt year for R.J. McIntosh. The real wild card here is Wynn. Another preseason tease or will 2018 be a breakout year for him as a situational player? Giants will have to make a decision after Mauro is eligible to come back.
Outside Linebacker: Broken record time…Olivier Vernon looks primed for big season but gets hurt early. This had better not be another one of those “nagging” injury issues with him that contributes to just another 6-7 sack season. The Giants need a 12-14 sack season out him. Kareem Martin will start opposite of him. He probably was a little nervous when the Giants signed Connor Barwin, but Barwin has missed almost all of the preseason with a knee injury. Lorenzo Carter is still learning the game, but flashes at times. It’s doubtful the Giants can keep both Romeo Okwara (who received 1st team reps this week at practice) and Avery Moss, unless the Giants cut Barwin. Huge game for both against the Patriots.
Inside Linebacker: Alec Ogletree and B.J. Goodson are the starters, but Ray-Ray Armstrong is making a hard push for playing time. As I’ve stated before, Mark Herzlich has always been better suited for a 3-4 defense. Beat writers keep talking about Tae Davis. This is a big game for him.
Cornerback: Outside of Janoris Jenkins, this position is a mess. Eli Apple will start because there are no better options. Donte Deayon is a walking injury. The others are castoffs who other teams will abuse all day long. Help wanted sign is out here.
Safety: Landon Collins is probably overrated by some fans and underrated by others. He would be even better if he were teamed with a true, athletic free safety. That kind of guy isn’t on this team and won’t be in 2018. So James Bettcher will have to play mad scientist and mix-and-match at the position all year long. As of now, Curtis Riley has won the job by default because Darian Thompson can’t stay out of the infirmary. You have to wonder if the Giants will simply cut bait with him at this point. Michael Thomas and William Gay are plugins who you don’t want starting. Watch waiver wire here too.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Aldrick Rosas has had a very good preseason. It makes complete sense for the Giants to roll the dice with him again. But you know everyone will be holding their breath with him when the games count. If Hunter Sharp and Kalif Raymond didn’t put the ball on the ground so much, the return game would be in decent shape. But they do. Bill Parcells wouldn’t even have them out there.
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Pat Shurmur on his team as it approaches the start of the regular season: “I feel like we’ve done a lot of good things (this offseason). I think we’re on the right path. We’ve certainly got a lot of work to do between now and first week and then teams improve as the season goes along… It’s really a journey for a team to try to get enough wins to be in the playoffs and as you go through it, you hope as a team you stay healthy and then continue to improve.”
THE FINAL WORD:
This game is going to be big for guys like Jalen Simmons, Robert Martin, Jhurell Pressley, Jerell Adams, Scott Simonson, Chad Wheeler, Nick Becton, Romeo Okwara, and Avery Moss.
In reality, watching the cuts on Saturday will be more interesting.