Aug 152019
 
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T.J. Jones, New York Giants (August 8, 2019)

T.J. Jones – © USA TODAY Sports

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Preseason Game Preview: Chicago Bears at New York Giants, August 16, 2019

THE STORYLINE:
In terms of media and fan perspective, the predominant early narrative on the 2019 New York Giants remains the same. Most see a rebuilding team with a potentially yet-to-be-determined and messy quarterback transition. The game against the New York Jets provided some reasons to be optimistic and some causes for concern. Minus their best player (Saquon Barkley), the Giants pretty soundly defeated their cross-town rivals, and looked sharper in doing so than is normally the custom for the first preseason game. Daniel Jones played better than anyone expected and a number of the newcomers on both sides of the ball flashed. It was an entertaining game and the players seemed motivated and excited. On the flip side, the first-team defense and offense struggled on the initial drives. The Giants couldn’t run the ball. But that should change once Barkley is in the line-up. The biggest cause for concern remains the pass rush.

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

  • WR Sterling Shepard (thumb)
  • OT Brian Mihalik (burner)
  • OT George Asafo-Adjei (concussion)
  • LB Alec Ogletree (calf)
  • CB Deandre Baker (knee)
  • CB Sam Beal (hamstring)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Understandably, almost all of the discussion following the first preseason game was centered on the performance of Daniel Jones, who perfectly completed all five of his passes, including a tight 3rd-and-7 sideline throw and a 12-yard touchdown pass. But stormy weather prevented a larger sample size. The good news is that Jones silenced some of his critics in the short-term. The bad news is that expectations may now be unfairly raised. The naysayers are sure to vocally return with the inevitable inconsistencies and growing pains.

While the first game could not have gone better for Jones, it was far from ideal for the actual starting quarterback, Eli Manning. He only had one pass in one series, and on that throw, he checked down to a very short, 3-yard completion when he had another target open farther down the field on the side he rolled to. A strange 3rd-and-8 draw play brought out the boo-birds.  Then Eli got to listen to the fans roar as Daniel Jones easily drove the first-team offense down the field for a touchdown. From a psychological perspective, Manning is in a very tough spot. Everyone knows the transition is only a matter of time. And with every incompletion or (gasp) interception, the calls for Manning to sit will grow and grow. I don’t find it surprising that Manning lit it up in practice this week. My guess is he sees the writing on the wall and his dander is up.

Beyond the quarterback controversy, to be frank, it’s difficult to judge this offense without its best weapon. Saquon Barkley changes the entire offensive dynamic of this team as both a runner and pass receiver. It would be like watching the 1980s Giants’ defense without Lawrence Taylor playing. So what I am primarily looking at are the various component parts. How does the offensive line block? How much trouble are the Giants in at wide receiver with Golden Tate being suspended for four games? Is there a viable back-up running back on this roster who can spell Barkley?

In their very brief, two-drive action last Thursday, the starting offensive line looked sharp protecting the passer. The run blocking needs work. Outside of the penalties (some ticky tack), what was surprising was how well some of the lesser-known back-ups played. The coaches seemed to have noticed too and it looks like Nick Gates and Chad Slade may be pressing for roster spots as both received first-team reps this week at camp. The bad news is that tackles George Asafo-Adjei and Brian Mihalik are missing valuable playing time with injuries.

On paper, the Giants’ receiving corps appears to be one of the worst in the NFL, especially with Golden Tate now officially out one-quarter of the season. But with Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram sitting on the sidelines last week, the no-names actually had a very good game, racking up 20 catches for 323 yards and three touchdowns. Was that a fluke?

Wayne Gallman, Paul Perkins, and Rod Smith rushed for 34 yards on 15 carries. That’s not getting it done. Barkley is the man, but the Giants need someone else to at least be competent. Perkins in particular had a bad game and if he follows that up with another bad performance, he’s likely out of the picture.

Both Alex Tanney and Kyle Lauletta had a good game. Right now, Tanney appears to still have the advantage with three games to go.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The first defensive series against the Jets would have been far different had Jabrill Peppers finished his excellent coverage by intercepting Sam Darnold’s first pass. But he didn’t. And the Jets then easily drove for a touchdown on the next five plays. Aside from some coverage issues from safety/cornerback Julian Love, what stood out was the lack of pass rush. This could be the team’s Achilles’ heel in 2019. What we do not want to see is teams continually converting on 3rd-and-long because the Giants can’t get to the quarterback.

The starting defense also took a bit of a blow this week when cornerback Deandre Baker sprained his knee. Hopefully, he will be back soon. He needs the reps in advance of the regular-season opener. While Corey Ballentine has flashed both in camp and the first game, Antonio Hamilton received more of the first-team reps opposite of Janoris Jenkins in practice this week. Meanwhile Sam Beal has missed virtually all of training camp with a nagging hamstring injury. This just goes to show you how multiple injuries at one position can change things overnight. Two names to keep an eye on at back-up safety are Sean Chandler and Kenny Ladler. Both have made some noise.

The Giants actually appear to be in good shape on the defensive line. Starters Dalvin Tomlinson, B.J. Hill, and Dexter Lawrence are big, strong linemen with good quickness. They are still very young and will get better with playing time. Chris Slayton and John Jenkins were a bit more disruptive than I expected against the Jets. If Olsen Pierre and R.J. McIntosh can show something, this will be a good group.

Linebacker is the focus. Inside, it’s fascinating to see how rapidly Ryan Connelly has moved up the depth chart. With Alec Ogletree not likely to play, Connelly may even start against the Bears. The coaches also seem to prefer the overall athleticism of Tae Davis over B.J. Goodson, who appears to be falling like a rock on the depth chart. He’s in danger of not making the team with Nate Stupar being a core special teams player. I would not also completely discount Jonathan Anderson.

The top four edge guys are Lorenzo Carter, Markus Golden, Kareem Martin, and Oshane Ximines. You see a hint of potential with all four, but they aren’t getting the job done (yet). Get to the quarterback! In the meantime, one has the sense that the coaches are desperately trying to justify keeping Jake Carlock on the roster.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
There is some concern at punter. Riley Dixon wasn’t very good against the Jets. Ryan Anderson has been cut and Johnny Townsend was claimed off of waivers from the Raiders.

T.J. Jones was sure-handed as a punt returner against the Jets, but he didn’t show much quickness and was tackled far too easily. On the other hand, Corey Ballentine did have a 40-yard kickoff return. It will be interesting to see if Darius Slayton and/or Brittan Golden get any reps as returners.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Pat Shurmur on the quarterbacks in this game: “I do plan on playing all four quarterbacks, like I did last week… I’d like to see Eli get a little bit more time. We’ll just see how that plays out. But there’s a chance that (Daniel Jones) could play behind the one (offensive) line.”

THE FINAL WORD:
Pass rush, pass rush, pass rush. Got to get to the quarterback or we’re in for a frustrating year on defense.

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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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