The obvious storyline heading into this game is the injury-depleted situation on the offensive line. It got so bad this week that the Giants had to eliminate their third-team offensive line completely from practice, and two players signed on Friday morning were the guards on the second-team line. Aside from depth, the injuries have particularly affected the starting situation at center and left guard, both sore spots for the team last season as well.
The good news is that aside from Marcus McKethan, who is on season-ending Injured Reserve with an ACL injury, and Nick Gates, who is still coming off of last year’s catastrophic leg injury, all of the offensive linemen are expected back soon. The bad news is that the one unit that needs to develop cohesion and chemistry is missing valuable practice time. The right side – knock on wood – has not been affected as right tackle Evan Neal and right guard Mark Glowinski have remained healthy. Andrew Thomas has been a rock at left tackle too. But they just can’t seem to get his flankmate settled. Shane Lemieux is hurt again and may not return until sometime early in the regular season. His principle back-up, Joshua Ezeudu, is also out. Starting center Jon Feliciano is expected back soon, but he is out. The one back-up who has been impressing at center, Ben Bredeson, hurt his elbow in practice this week. When it rains, it pours.
All of this is having an overall impact on how the Giants now approach the preseason. Head Coach Brian Daboll had said he was going to play his starters against Cincinnati, but he hedged his bets on Friday, saying the offensive line situation may cause him not to play them or not play them as much as he intended. What he’s basically saying is he is afraid the subpar replacements may get starters hurt.
THE INJURY REPORT:
WR Sterling Shepard (Achilles), OC Nick Gates (leg), and OT Matt Peart (knee) remain on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List.
RB Matt Breida (unknown), RB Gary Brightwell (unknown), WR Kadarius Toney (knee/leg), WR Darius Slayton (unknown), TE Andre Miller (broken right forearm), TE Ricky Seals-Jones (unknown), OC Jon Feliciano (right arm), LG Shane Lemieux (foot), OL Joshua Ezeudu (unknown), OC/OG Ben Bredeson (elbow), OL Jamil Douglas (ankle), OL Garrett McGhin (unknown), DL Leonard Williams (unknown), LB Jihad Ward (unknown), LB Elerson Smith (lower right leg), CB Cor’Dale Flott (groin), CB Rodarius Williams (unknown), and S Dane Belton (broken left collarbone) have not practiced this past week and are not expected to play.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The starting offensive line is left tackle Andrew Thomas, left guard Devery Hamilton, center Max Garcia, right guard Mark Glowinski, and right tackle Evan Neal. Don’t expect Thomas, Glowinski, and Neal to play all that much.
One man’s misfortune is another man’s gain, and the one lineman who is taking advantage of the current injury situation is Hamilton. Offensive Line Coach Bobby Johnson says he’s been impressed by Hamilton reliability and intelligence. In other words, he’s been “smart, tough, and dependable.” He played a ton of snaps in the first preseason game and is likely to play most of this game as well. Garcia is more guard than center. We could see some bad snaps. He’s gone from a guy fighting for a roster spot to starter in just a week!
The back-up offensive line – which was really the 3rd-team line just a week ago – is made up of left tackle Roy Mbaeteka, left guard Josh Rivas (a rookie free agent who was cut last Sunday and re-signed on Friday), center Will Holden (a tackle signed earlier this month being forced to center this week), right guard Chris Owens (a rookie free agent cut by the Steelers this week and signed on Friday), and right tackle Eric Smith (signed earlier this month after he was cut by the Cardinals).
Long-story short. Don’t expect the offense to look good at all against the Bengals.
Of course, the Daniel Jones detractors will point to every bad play and blame him. Whether Jones is the answer or not, there has always been an element of the Giants fan base that gets some weird pleasure at seeing their starting quarterback fail. We saw it with Phil Simms, Jeff Hostetler, Kerry Collins, and Eli Manning. Why should Jones be any different? Newsflash, Jones was clearly the best QB on the roster in the first preseason game.
As for the back-up quarterbacks, I expect them to be under duress most of the game. What I don’t want to see from them this week is careless throws. Tyrod Taylor and Davis Webb were lucky they didn’t throw a slew of interceptions against the Patriots.
I wouldn’t play Saquon Barkley in this game. Matt Breida is out and Gary Brightwell is missing valuable snaps to make his case for roster spot. Expect Jashaun Corbin and Antonio Williams to be worked pretty good. Heck, we may see more Sandro Platzgummer than we ever have.
The receiving situation is not ideal. No tight end really has taken the bull by the horns. Daniel Bellinger may end up being a decent player, but he isn’t right now either as a blocker or receiver. Ricky Seals-Jones hasn’t practiced since the start of camp. None of the other journeymen have made any noise. Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka may be forced not to play tight ends much this year simply because they don’t have the personnel.
At the outside position, for his second camp with the Giants, Kenny Golladay has been exceptionally quiet and that does not bode well for the regular season. Kadarius Toney is hurt. Again. And will not play. Again. Darius Slayton may be on the bubble and is not helping himself by likely missing this game with an injury. Robert Foster was placed on IR with a hamstring injury and is out of the picture. Sterling Shepard is still on the PUP.
Aside from Golladay, the remaining primary targets are Wan’Dale Robinson (who I get the sense the coaching staff is hiding from regular-season opponents), Collin Johnson, Richie James, and C.J. Board. Not exactly the kind of group that inspires fear in anyone.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
I’ll tell you the truth. The only thing keeping my interest up with this team right now is the defense. My gut tells me this defense is still a couple of cornerbacks short from being really, really good, but I think offensive teams will not enjoy playing the Giants this year. I’m getting vibes from 1995 when the defense beat up on other teams, kept the Giants in games, but ultimately a failing offense led to a losing record. That’s OK. I just don’t want to see terrible teams humiliate the Giants 29-3 like the Bears did in January. Give me an old-fashioned Giants defense to watch, and for now, I’ll be happy.
The red flag from last week was the cornerback play outside of Adoree’ Jackson. As I warned fans, this defense puts a ton of pressure on cornerbacks to hold up. They will be left on an island and they will have to sink or swim on their own. Against the Patriots, Aaron Robinson sank. How will he respond this week? The coaches like what they have seen in practice and said last week was an important learning experience for the young player transitioning to outside corner. But teams are going to pick on him until he makes them pay.
The depth situation behind the starters at corner is not good either. Defensive Backs Coach Jerome Henderson admitted this week that there is no clear-cut #3 outside corner on this team right now. He mentioned Zyon Gilbert, Darren Evans, and Cor’Dale Flott (out this week) as the main contenders. Olaijah Griffin was claimed off of waivers this week as well. (Side note: I find the Rodarius Williams situation odd. He was not placed on the PUP at the start of camp, but he never seems to practice. We have no idea if he is even in the picture for the upcoming season).
It sounds like the team is happy with Darnay Holmes as their nickel corner. Flott is also an option there (when he returns) as is Khalil Dorsey. Gilbert, Evans, Griffin, and Dorsey have an excellent chance to make a statement, one way or the other, on Sunday night.
Inside, the Giants are set with Xavier McKinney, Julian Love, and probably Andrew Adams as their top three safeties. The injury to Dane Belton led to the signing of Andrews and elevated his importance. Rookie free agents Yusuf Corker and Trenton Thompson are coming off a good first preseason game and get another chance to impress. Both should play a ton.
Up front, this defense is a much different animal without Leonard Williams playing, and he will miss the second preseason game in a row. There are vibes that Dexter Lawrence may be on the verge of becoming the player hoped for when the Giants drafted him in the first round. He seems to be responding well to the new coaching staff, system, and how the Giants are employing him. I would not play him too much on Sunday. If Williams and Lawrence can both be difference-makers up front, combined with Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari at outside linebacker, this defense could be special.
That all said, it’s the defensive depth that will receive most of the playing time on Sunday. So the guys to evaluate are Jalyn Holmes, Nick Williams, Justin Ellis, D.J. Davidson, Ryder Anderson, and David Moa. At outside linebacker, Jihad Ward and Elerson Smith will be out. That’s unfortunate with Smith in particular. Quincy Roche, Oshane Ximines, and Tomon Fox should receive the bulk of the outside snaps.
Perhaps the most interesting competition on this team is inside linebacker. The team doesn’t seem too concerned about Blake Martinez still being out. They may simply be managing him (one beat reporter said Martinez may have been dealing with an illness). Everyone’s whipping boy – Tae Crowder – remains the starter and may be held in higher regard by the coaching staff. Meanwhile, both low-round rookie draft picks – Micah McFadden and Darrian Beavers – are impressing. And don’t forget special teams ace Cam Brown and jack-of-all-trade Carter Coughlin.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Special teams were not good last week, especially in coverage. This was odd as Thomas McGaughey’s units are usually pretty strong defending returns. The new punter pass his first test, but more evaluation is needed.
THE FINAL WORD:
Personally, I think the practices against the New York Jets next week are more important than this game. The Giants need to get some offensive linemen back. Just get out of this contest relatively healthy and I will be happy.