Aug 072019
 
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Evan Engram, New York Giants (December 30, 2018)

Evan Engram – © USA TODAY Sports

Preseason Game Preview: New York Jets at New York Giants, August 8, 2019

THE STORYLINE:
A year ago, it was just becoming more transparent that Dave Gettleman and Pat Shurmur intended to completely overturn the roster. But the level of roster gutting and transformation in just a year and a half has been truly startling. Even “foundation” draft picks such as Odell Beckham, Jr., Landon Collins, Eli Apple, and Ereck Flowers are gone as well as expensive free agent acquisitions Damon Harrison and Olivier Vernon. Hardly anyone is left from just two seasons ago.

What’s clear is that Gettleman and Shurmur didn’t like the way the old team was put together, both in terms of talent (or lack thereof) and personality. On paper, the Giants have gotten bigger and more physical up front on both sides of the ball. For the first time in almost a decade, there is an air of competency on the offensive line with the veteran additions of Nate Solder, Kevin Zeitler, and Mike Remmers, plus the drafting of Will Hernandez. While there remain concerns about the pass rush, few teams can field an imposing trio on the defensive line such as B.J. Hill, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Dexter Lawrence. Aside from B.J. Goodson and Janoris Jenkins, the linebacking corps and secondary has been completely replaced.

The Giants are going old school. They will run the football and stop the run. The passing game is likely to focus on play-action and the short- to intermediate-game. The defense will be young and will have to grow up quickly for the team to surprise.

We all know what the last element to the complete transition will be: the handing off of the reins to Daniel Jones. As long as the Giants remain in the playoff hunt, Eli Manning is likely to remain the starter. But if this team falls out of contention again by October or November, it won’t make much sense to prolong the inevitable.

THE INJURY REPORT:
The following players are not likely to play on Thursday night:

  • WR Sterling Shepard (thumb)
  • WR Darius Slayton (hamstring)
  • WR Brittan Golden (groin)
  • OT Chad Wheeler (back)
  • OT Brian Mihalik (burner)
  • OT George Asafo-Adjei (concussion)
  • LB Avery Moss (unknown)
  • CB Grant Haley (shoulder)
  • CB Sam Beal (hamstring)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
I say the same thing every year: the first preseason game is usually nothing more than a glorified scrimmage. Don’t place too much emphasis – either bad or good – on the outcome. Some starters will not play, and those that do won’t play long. Personally, I wouldn’t even dress Saquon Barkley. And this team is a much different animal without Saquon in the lineup. The Giants have been easing both offensive tackles, Nate Solder and Mike Remmers, into service since both are coming off of offseason surgery. The bad news for the entire back-up offense is that the top two-back tackles – Brian Mihalik and Chad Wheeler – are out. So is George Asafo-Adjei, who is probably the next best guy. The Jets should feast on third teamers much of the night. I’d be shocked if the offense looks sharp. Daniel Jones will probably have flashbacks to his University of Duke days, running for his life. New York Jets’ Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams tends treat the preseason like the playoffs and will probably be gunning for bear.

All eyes will be on Jones. I hope the back-up line can give him something of a ground game and buy him some time, but I doubt it. The Giants will be forced to play some second- and third-string guards at tackle. What I will be looking at is his presence, poise, and arm strength, particularly on throws outside the hashmarks. If it is a constant jailbreak up front, it will be difficult to get a good read on him. Alex Tanney and Kyle Lauletta may be in the same boat. I will tell you this… I’d be tempted to sit Eli Manning in the first game just so Daniel Jones can have his initial reps behind the starting unit. Eli doesn’t really need to play in this game.

Giants’ fans know the top two wide receivers will be Sterling Shepard (broken thumb) and Golden Tate (possible 4-game suspension). It is assumed by most that Bennie Fowler, Cody Latimer, Russell Shepard, Alonzo Russell, T.J. Jones, and Da’Mari Scott are journeymen and castoffs on one of the worst wide-receiving units in the NFL. They may be right. At the same time, each of these guys has flashed during practices. Could a guy like Fowler or Jones surprise everyone? Rookie Darius Slayton won’t play, but Reggie White, Jr. has flashed at times.

The Giants need Evan Engram to stay healthy and produce this year like he did late last season. Behind him, Rhett Ellison is steady but unspectacular. Much of my focus will be on Scott Simonson and C.J. Conrad since both may be better suited as true tight ends in a run-first offense. I still think the Giants will carry four tight ends this year.

Given the state of the back-up offensive line, the back-up running backs will probably suffer a similar fate as the back-up quarterbacks in this game. That said, there is a good battle brewing behind Saquon Barkley between Wayne Gallman, Paul Perkins, and Rod Smith. All three are not guaranteed to make the roster and all are fighting to be the primary back-up.

On the line, I’m not sure what the Giants will do after the starters leave the game. Undrafted rookie Paul Adams may see the bulk of the action at left tackle. With three other back-up tackles out, no-name guards will have to be shifted outside. Giants fans will be saying to themselves, “Who the heck are Victor Salako, Evan Brown, Nick Gates, and Chad Slade?!?”

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
For good reason, the Giants’ hierarchy has blown up the team’s defense. Not only did the team shift to a completely different 3-4 scheme in 2018, but almost all of the pre-2018 players are gone. All three levels of the defense have been almost completely revamped. The main challenge here is the learning curve. This is a very young defense with many new component parts. Cohesion and chemistry will be lacking. In a league where one mental mistake can easily lead to a long touchdown, the Giants will need the youth to grow up quickly.

On the defensive line, it was assumed that Dexter Lawrence would be the team’s new nose tackle. While Lawrence may see snaps at that spot, it appears James Bettcher would prefer to have B.J. Hill and Lawrence outside in the 3- and 5-technique spots with Dalvin Tomlinson playing the nose. Teams should have trouble running on these three as long as the linebackers and defensive backs maintain their gap responsibilities. Hill surprised with his pass rush last year and if he can build upon that, that would be huge in terms of addressing pass rush concerns. What will be fascinating to see is if Dexter Lawrence can provide any sort of pass-rush presence. He’s probably the only 340-pound “defensive end” in the League. There is not much depth behind these three with only six other players on the current training camp roster. I will be focusing much attention on back-ups R.J. McIntosh and Olsen Pierre. The Giants also need to decide if John Jenkins or Chris Slayton is the better back-up nose tackle candidate. Overall, my hope is that Lawrence-Tomlinson-Hill provide more inside bull-rush/quickness pressure than most teams are accustomed to and press the pocket up the gut and/or free others to take advantage of the chaos they cause.

All eyes will be focused on the outside edge rushers, particularly Lorenzo Carter, Markus Golden, and Oshane Ximines. If the Giants can’t get a pass rush out of two or three of these guys, they will likely be in trouble. Golden has done it before, but has to prove he is past his torn ACL. Carter has earned good reviews in camp, but he has to prove it when the games count. Ximines is the wild card. Inside, it appears that Bettcher has officially delineated between a typical “inside linebacker” and “money backer” – with both being formally identified on the team’s depth chart. The starting insider linebacker is Alec Ogletree with B.J. Goodson backing him up. Bettcher wants more of a linebacker/safety hybrid at the other spot, hence Tae Davis appears to have the starting nod with rookie Ryan Connelly backing him up. Whatever they decide to do, the Giants have been unable to cover tight ends down the middle for almost a decade now. And that’s scary considering Philadelphia is still in the division. Enough is enough.

Wow, did the Giants change the secondary in the offseason! Last year, it was Janoris Jenkins, Landon Collins, and a host of journeymen no-names. Enter Deandre Baker, Julian Love, Corey Ballentine, Jabrill Peppers, and Antoine Bethea. Also factor in Sam Beal, who spent his rookie season on IR. Now the Giants have three new starters, including both safeties. One gets the sense that Bettcher wants Peppers to be the centerpiece of his defense. The coaches quickly gave Baker the starting job in the spring. Love has been spending time both at back-up nickel corner and safety. One of the stars of training camp is Ballentine, who may press for serious playing time. This unit has mix of veterans (Jenkins, Bethea, and Thomas) and green-as-grass youth. It will be interesting to see them develop. Potentially, the Giants could be set in the secondary for many years. But 2019 will likely be a year of growing pains.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
We’ve heard virtually nothing about how Pro Bowl kicker Aldrick Rosas has done in training camp. Let’s hope that 2018 was the start of a wonderful career and not a fluke. Riley Dixon is facing competition from Ryan Anderson. Is it serious?

Losing Corey Coleman for the year was a big blow to the return game. Right now, Cody Latimer, T.J. Jones, and Corey Ballentine are listed as the kickoff returners. Ballentine had success in college returning kickoffs.

In two NFL seasons, Jabrill Peppers has returned 55 punts with seven fumbles (a fumble every eight times he touches the ball). He had better clean that up if Shurmur really wants him to be the primary punt returner. In addition, while his 7.3 yards per return is respectable, I’m not sure it justifies the risk of having him return punts unless he starts breaking more. Golden Tate and T.J. Jones are also both listed as punt returners. Jones has averaged 9.2 yards per punt return in four seasons. Tate really hasn’t done much punt returning since 2015.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Pat Shurmur on the first preseason game: “The guys that are playing in this game, we want to see them block, tackle, run, throw, catch, all of the things. It’s going to be less about match-ups and more about execution from that standpoint… There are some healthy guys that have been practicing that you may not see Thursday. ”

THE FINAL WORD:
I think this team will be more fun to watch this year. I just don’t think we’ll see it on Thursday night.

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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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