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Eli Manning, New York Giants (August 16, 2019)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports

Preseason Game Preview: New York Giants at Cincinnati Bengals, August 22, 2019

THE STORYLINE:
Aside from Golden Tate’s suspension, Sterling Shepard’s broken thumb, Sam Beal’s nagging hamstring, and George Asafo-Adjei’s concussion, this has been a relatively positive summer for the Giants. The team is relatively healthy (knock on wood), the offensive line is coming together, the receivers are being more productive than expected, the quarterbacks are playing well, and there are positive signs from a number of the young players on the defensive side of the football. Yes, there are concerns about the pass rush and cohesion on defense. And whether the coaches, media, and fans want to admit it or not, there is a full-fledged quarterback controversy/transition on the horizon. But the overall sense is the team is finally headed in the right direction.

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

  • WR Golden Tate (concussion)
  • WR Sterling Shepard (thumb)
  • OT George Asafo-Adjei (concussion)
  • LB Alec Ogletree (calf)
  • CB Deandre Baker (knee)
  • CB Antonio Hamilton (groin)
  • CB Sam Beal (hamstring)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Yes, it’s only the preseason, and yes, opposing teams have played their back-ups more than their starters. But the Giants have scored 63 points in their first two games without Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram. This is after the Giants averaged over 27 points per game during the second half of the 2018 season. The Pat Shurmur-Mike Shula offense is becoming accustomed to scoring points. One wonders how productive this team will be once Barkley is running behind perhaps the team’s best offensive line since Tom Coughlin was winning Super Bowls.

Eli Manning looked sharp on his only drive against the Bears’ second-team defense last week. He probably will see a bit more action this week but it doesn’t sound like Pat Shurmur intends for him to play past halftime (and he may pull him far sooner than that). We all know Manning became shell-shocked behind the inept offensive lines the team has field for the past seven years. Most quarterbacks don’t recover from that. We still need to see Eli consistently stand tough in the pocket and deliver accurate throws down-the-field in clutch situations when teams are coming after him. He’s got a competent offensive line in front of him now and the best running back he has ever played with (apologies to Tiki Barber, Brandon Jacobs, and Ahmad Bradshaw).

For better or worse, Pat Shurmur has decided to put Barkley and Engram in bubble wrap this preseason. If either is going to play, it will be this game. If not, see you on opening day. Again, not to beat a dead horse, but we really haven’t seen this offense at full-strength yet this preseason. Yet, they are still scoring 30 points per game.

It’s scary how similar Eli Manning and Daniel Jones are. Physically, they are roughly the same size. Both have boyish, “aw shucks” faces. They have similar temperaments and are equally adept at handling the press. And unfortunately, we are learning that both seem unfairly targeted for criticism by national media, fans, and other players around the league. Eli still gets mocked despite wearing two legitimage Super Bowl MVP rings and now Jones is fair game despite what he’s done in the preseason. I guess we’re going to have a cumulative 30-year span where Giants fans will have to tell these people to fuck off. If Jones ends up wearing a ring or two as well, so much the better.

What impressed me the most last week about Jones was not ability to come off his original target and his continued pin-point accuracy, but the fact that he didn’t get flustered after his two fumbles. Veteran quarterbacks often struggle to rebound from that kind of adversity. Jones doesn’t have Eli’s arm (especially a 23-year old Eli). But his accuracy appears superior. And we still haven’t seen his wheels yet. Again, Jones is going to have his ups-and-downs. This isn’t Madden. There is a learning curve. But the arrow is definitely pointing up, and if I were a fan of another team in the NFC East, I wouldn’t be too happy with what I’ve seen so far.

There has been one major surprise on this side of the football: a group of castoffs seem to be doing just fine at wide receiver. The supposed front-line players, Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard, haven’t been the ones making plays, but Bennie Fowler, T.J. Jones, Cody Latimer, Russell Shepard, and Alonzo Russell. It’s tough to see this group being this productive once they face starting-caliber cornerbacks for 60 minutes. But maybe, just maybe, these guys can do the job better than we thought? The game against the Bengals is another test.

Another area that has surprised are the back-ups on the offensive line. Heading into camp, the second-team offensive line looked like trouble. And if you said that Chad Wheeler, Brian Mihalik, and George Asafo-Adjei were going to miss significant time, you would have been even more pessimistic. But Nick Gates, Chad Slade, and the others have been pleasant surprises. Good job by the coaching staff and these players. It looks like Asafo-Adjei ‘s rookie season is going to be a washout. I would like to get a good view of Mihalik, who was the second-string tackle before he missed time with a burner.

I think it’s pretty safe to assume that Barkley is the #1 back and Gallman is the #2. Gallman hasn’t seen a lot of action this preseason as the coaches have taken a long look at the rest of the backs. Pat Shurmur was effusive in his praise of Eli Penny this week. It still would not shock me if the Giants only carry three backs (one being Penny) or if they do want another true halfback, that guy is not on the roster yet.

At tight end, don’t discount Garrett Dickerson. In the competition against C.J. Conrad, he has appeared to be the better receiver. That said, despite his lack of classic size, Conrad looks like the better blocker. If I were Scott Simonson, I would not feel safe.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The first-team defense has not impressed early in both preseason games, settling down after the initial drive. They need to start off stronger. The run defense hasn’t been bad, but it should be stronger than it has been as well. I do wonder if the Giants are playing Dexter Lawrence out of position, but it’s still very early.

The good news is that some of the guys who need to come through in the pass rush department picked up sacks last week: Markus Golden, Oshane Ximines, and Olsen Pierre. I also saw flashes from Lorenzo Carter, including a nifty spin move that left his opponent grabbing for jersey. (That said, Carter also lost contain on an outside run). Stating the obvious again, so much depends on the pass rush.

Even though he is supposedly recovering well, we probably won’t see Alec Ogletree again this preseason. That will prove more opportunities for Tae Davis, Ryan Connelly, Nate Stupar, B.J. Goodson, and Jonathan Anderson. One gets the sense that Goodson very much is fighting for a roster spot.

Although none of the injuries are serious or long-term, the secondary is a bit undermanned right now. Starting corner Deandre Baker will miss his second game. The man he beat out for the job, Sam Beal, hasn’t played all preseason. The guy who filled in for both, Antonio Hamilton, is also now out. This will be a good chance for Corey Ballentine to impress, but again, expect inconsistent play and growing pains. Those fans suggesting the team should cut Beal should keep in mind how injuries can turn what looks like a strong unit into something else very quickly. Beal may very well be needed in October and November.

At safety, keep an eye on Kenny Ladler, another no-name who keeps making plays.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
I’m still personally stunned at the Aldrick Rosas story. So far, 2018 doesn’t look like a fluke. On the flip side, the Bears gave me punter envy last week. And the Giants obviously are not too happy either, having claimed a punter off of waivers. Lost in the shuffle too was that Zak DeOssie (toe injury) didn’t long snap, Taybor Pepper did. I don’t think Zak’s job is at risk, but Zak isn’t going to play forever.

I had been viewing T.J. Jones as a reliable but unspectacular punt returner until his muffed punt against the Bears. I still wonder who will be returning punts against the Cowboys? Will they have Jabrill Peppers do it?

Corey Ballentine is being given a chance to win the kickoff return job, but on opening day, would the coaches prefer the security of having a veteran do it such as Cody Latimer or T.J. Jones?

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Pat Shurmur on what he wants to see from his defense in this game: “I think they have to make sure they’re over-exaggerating their communication, being in all of the right spots, playing with the right leverage. Upfront, when the other team is throwing the ball, we have to be disruptive and get pressure on the quarterback.”

THE FINAL WORD:
Coaches normally don’t play their starters much in the preseason finale. This is probably the last good look we’ll have at many starters before the games count. In less than a week and a half, the Giants need to make at least 37 roster moves.

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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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