Week 2 of the 3-week preseason brought NYG to Cleveland, a spot they spent all week practicing against a 2020 playoff team, the Cleveland Browns. These intra-squad practices have become the norm for most teams around the league. Because of the increased intensity during the week, the vast majority of starters on both sides of the ball did not play a single snap. Head Coach Joe Judge did state that next week’s preseason matchup against New England, the final one, will feature the starters for a good chunk of time. This game, however, was one of the final pieces to the puzzle for the back-end-of-roster building as there are still several question marks at a few spots when diagnosing who will be on that final 53-man roster.
The Giants’ running game got off to a solid start, but their opening drive stalled at midfield with 2 straight incompletions by Mike Glennon. CLE then took their opening drive down the field with little resistance from the NYG defense. Their opening 6 plays netted respective gains of 7, 8, 14, 12, 13, and 18 yards, putting them inside the NYG 10-yard line. After a 2nd down drop in the end zone by receiver Rashard Higgins and a sack by Oshane Ximines, CLE opted to go for it on 4th and Goal from the 7. Case Keenum hit KhaDarel Hodge for the score.
NYG responded with a time-consuming drive of their own, showing everything you want to see out of an offense. Balanced play-calling with efficient gains on early downs, a 3rd-down conversion, and quality blocking. Their 11-play drive ended with a Devontae Booker 1-yard touchdown where he dove over the pile right down the middle. The score was tied up at 7 and it would remain that way for the rest of the first half.
CLE did make their way inside the NYG 10-yard line again, aided by a questionable 3rd down pass interference penalty called on Carter Coughlin. On the ensuing 3rd down, this one from the NYG 9, Keenum had his time in the pocket, but the coverage was on point. He tried to fit a ball into tight end Jordan Franks, but it was picked off by Quincy Wilson, one of the team’s standout performers all summer.
The two offenses traded uneventful drives; CLE being led by former Giants backup signal caller Kyle Lauletta. He peppered the defense with several short air-yard passing attempts and rarely looked downfield. They did reach midfield but ran out of time and timeouts as the NYG pass rush was consistently causing disruption.
The second half was highlighted by the newest NYG quarterback, Brian Lewerke. Signed just a week prior to this game, he marched out onto the field with the backups. His first two drives were uneventful 3-and-outs while the NYG defense got roasted on the second- and third-level by the Lauletta-led CLE offense. They scored their second touchdown of the day on a 5-yard run by second-year back John Kelly.
On the Giants’ first possession of the 4th quarter, still down 14-7, Lewerke threw a couple of nice passes on the move outside of the numbers. On this drive, he really turned some heads. He started it off going 3-for-3 before picking up 20 yards on a designed quarterback keeper. Thanks to 20 yards of CLE penalties and 8 yards picked up by rookie running back Gary Brightwell on two runs, Lewerke found himself 3rd-and-4 from the CLE 8-yard line. He threw a strike to David Sills IV, who made a nice play on the ball, before failing the two-point conversion pass. NYG was down 14-13 with just over 7:00 left.
The ugly tackling, a notable trend we have now seen for two straight weeks, reached the low point on the ensuing CLE drive. Multiple missed tackles by the back seven heavily aided Kelly as he picked up 43 yards on 4 touches via both the run and pass. It put them on the NYG 31, which netted them an additional 3 points with just over 2 minutes left. CLE had a solid 4-point lead.
The Lewerke-led offense did put together another impressive drive in what you would call a “pressure” situation in preseason terms. He converted a 3rd-and- 19 to tight end Rysen John, a 4th-and-6th to running back Gary Brightwell, and a 4th-and-8 to Damion Willis. Really impressive performance from the 2020 undrafted free agent. The game, however, did end on a desperation throw that was intercepted by rookie safety Richard LeCounte in the end zone.
CLE wins, 17-13.
-Mike Glennon and Brian Lewerke both looked sharp in this one, all things considered. They got the ball out quickly and accurately and seemed to have their timing down well. They went a combined 21/32 for 194 yards 1 TD / 1 INT and another 27 yards on the ground. The pass protection was solid enough for the coaches to get a proper feel for these two. Lewerke was good once he got a few drives under his belt, notably on 3rd and 4th down. Is there a subtle QB competition going on for that backup spot? Probably not. Glennon is making a half-million guaranteed. However, Lewerke could earn a spot on the practice squad. Something worth keeping an eye on.
-Devontae Booker got the start and was only in there for a quarter of the plays. He appeared less-rusty and more decisive with the ball. He picked up 27 yards on 6 carries along with a touchdown and caught 2 passes for 13 yards.
-The spot behind Booker is interesting to me. Corey Clement had a solid 13-yard run but gained just 17 yards on his other 8 carries. Considering his fumble history, including last week, and the lack of variety to his game, one can wonder of Elijhaa Penny should have that number three role. The fullback has been discussed for 2 years now as a guy who can get the ball more in short yardage. He went on to gain 16 yards on 2 carries and picked up 7 more yards on a catch. In the 53-man roster chess match where finding guys who can do multiple things is key, I do see a scenario where Penny gets the nod and Clement gets the boot.
-Gary Brightwell saw about a third of the snaps and caught 3 passes. He looks physical and powerful with a no-nonsense approach. I need to see more out of him as a blocker to really diagnose the odds of him making this roster. We already know he can impact special teams.
-David Sills and Dante Pettis led the group in both snaps and receptions, with the former bringing in a touchdown on a play where he played the ball beautifully. His ability to maneuver around defenders and put himself in optimal positioning to hand-catch the ball was the top trait that had me give him a 3rd round grade coming out of West Virginia (he went undrafted). I may have a small bias here, but I believe this kid deserves a shot in real-game action. He never has been a blazer, nor will he ever be one. But he knows how to catch the ball and his route running/release ability has improved notably. If I had to choose between him and Pettis? I’m going with Sills. Pettis offers more athletically though; I will say that.
-Alex Bachman and Damion Willis are on the outside looking in. The former had a drop and also didn’t run a 3rd-down route deep enough on a play where he was the primary read. Little things like that are deciding factors in games because of how much 3rd down success correlates to winning. Willis made 2 catches, one going for 15 yards. Still would love to see him on the practice squad.
-Another week, another game where Rysen John is growing on me. He led the team with 58 yards on 3 catches. He gets up the seam in a hurry and that is an area I think this offense will be attacking more in the passing game now that Barkley will be back on the field. He did get flagged for a hold and he did bang up his ankle a bit, but I think he needs to be on the practice squad on the very least. He still is very early in the progression stage when it comes to learning how to play tight end.
-The first string sat this one out, so it was a nice long look at some of the backup-battles. Overall, the line looked better this week than what we saw in preseason Week 1.
-I was unimpressed by the left tackle Jackson Barton, who was claimed last September from KC. He allowed 1 sack and 1 pressure, but his weaknesses show up in the running game. Too often off balance, rarely got movement off the ball, and whiffed a couple times when forced to adjust laterally.
-This was our first look at the Ted Larsen-Jonotthan Harrison combo inside. Both veterans looked like a presence in the running game. They were on point across several combo blocks. These are the two guys I want sitting behind the starters. Limited upside but you know what you’re getting here, two smart guys with some nastiness in their game.
-Chad Slade and Jake Burton were better than what we saw last week, notably in pass protection even though Burton did allow a sack. Slade is going to make this roster I believe. When he has his feet under him, he really is a swift and powerful blocker.
-This staff may have a thing for Kenny Wiggins and I can’t say I know what goes on behind closed doors and at practice, but I have been very underwhelmed with him so far. I don’t see any consistency with any part of his technique. Simply put, he gets beat a lot.
-I don’t see how David Moa makes this roster when I do the math, but he certainly is making a case for it. He finished with a very active 6 tackles, while adding a pressure and pass deflection. He was roaming up and down the tackle box, getting free from blocks and finishing. Really impressive hustle from the 310 pounder who led all DL in snaps.
-Raymond Johnson III was the defensive star of the game in my eyes. NYG has something here. He finished with 3 tackles, a half-sack, and 2 pressures. His play-style, body type, and skill set are exactly what NYG needs to backup their linemen and I would be shocked to see him anywhere other than the final 53-man roster. Sure, we need to see him against some better competition, but he has shown a lot in 2 games.
-B.J. Hill had one tackle and a pressure, as he was right there on the Carter Coughlin sack. He didn’t play much, however.
-Elijah Qualls flashed with some penetration and Willie Henry had another active game. Good to see these backups respond well to the scheme should injuries start to arise at some point.
-Oshane Ximines had a standout performance as a pass rusher. His shortcomings in the running game have been there from the beginning of his career and it is safe to say he won’t ever be a weapon there. But his main job is to impact the opposing passing game and that he did. He had 3 pressures and a sack, seeming to live in the backfield on deep drop backs by the CLE quarterbacks.
-Trent Harris had a pressure and a TFL. He is a guy who consistently will flash when the snaps are there. Just a really quick and strong finisher.
-Ryan Anderson finished with a half-sack and Ifeadi Odenigbo added a pressure. Both were charged with missed tackles and didn’t seem to have a consistent flow in the pass rush game.
-Carter Coughlin still appears to be the best of the backups at this group. He had a pressure, a sack, and 4 tackles. He got flagged for a questionable pass interference and there were a couple other plays where he got beat in coverage, but he never seems too far from the action, run or pass.
-Reggie Ragland and Devante Downs can’t say the same. They are going to be an issue in coverage if they are on the field and Downs missed 2 tackles. Both were bad, ugly misses. He did share the team lead with 7 tackles, however. Not a terrible game for him, but he needs to cut out the whiffs.
-Cam Brown got some action late in the game. He was fooled on misdirection twice, but I was really impressed by the speed and burst he showed in recovery. He is so wide and long-strided. If he can figure things out mentally, there will be a role for him. He also added 2 special team tackles.
-Rodarius Williams and Sam Beal practically played the entire game, just under 90% of the snaps. Williams continued his up-and-down performance that we have seen and read about all summer. He broke up a 3rd down pass where he showed excellent lower body technique and accurate hands. Beal struggled and I think we are at the point where one needs to ask: what does anyone hope he can bring to the table? He is a terrible tackler (2 misses), he has issues staying healthy, and there isn’t a natural feel in coverage. You can only hope on speed and height for so long.
-Madre Harper is another one I find myself scratching my head about. He allowed a touchdown early in the game for the same reason I see over and over with him: a lack of discipline on reads and long-legged movement that makes it even tougher for him to adjust into a good position.
-Darnay Holmes played just 7 snaps early in the game.
-Julian Love and Xavier McKinney didn’t play a ton, but I was encouraged but what I saw from both on the re-watch. They both made a really physical downhill tackles, and both were moving swiftly in coverage. When healthy (knock on wood), this defensive back group is loaded with potential and a lot of it comes down to the versatility these safeties have.
-Quincy Wilson, arguably the top defensive surprise of camp and preseason, finished with a tackle and key interception in the end zone. The former Florida cornerback is yet another defensive back who can be moved in and out of positions based on matchups.
-Chris Johnson, one that I think had no shot of making this roster anyway, was terrible. He missed 2 tackles, failed to set the edge multiple times, and was responsible for a touchdown run where he didn’t fill his assignment.
-K Ryan Santoso: 1/1 XP
-P Riley Dixon: 6 punts / 45.5 avg / 40.2 net
-DL David Moa, WR David Sills IV, DL Raymond Johnson III
-OT Jackson Barton, S Chris Johnson, CB Sam Beal
3 THOUGHTS ON CLE
1) We all know that analytics have taken over the majority of NFL teams, some more than others. It isn’t a debate I enjoy getting into because the term “analytics” is simply too broad. I think information and data is key. It is vital to building rosters, making personnel decisions, and strategizing. I have taken a deep dive into information when it comes to salary cap allocation, personnel groupings on offense and defense, and situational play calling. One team stands out the most in terms of blending this all together to create wins, and it is CLE. It worked well last year, and I think the sky is the limit for them in 2021.
2) The CLE running game is absolutely stacked. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are the top 1-2 punch in the league for my money, but the rest of the depth chart needs respect too. D’Ernest Johnson and rookie Demetric Felton are almost sure-things to make this roster. Could that free up John Kelly? Should NYG be interested if so? He broke tackles with the best of them in college, in the SEC, and that is the top trait I look for in backs.
3) A lesson in how to make a solid offense one of the best? BUILD THE OFFENSIVE LINE and DO NOT MISS. They’ve done it all to build a top 5 OL in this league. First round pick on their left tackle, a big contract to a young and proven right tackle who his former team simply could not afford, a trade for a guard who was being used incorrectly on his previous team, a day-2 guard who played tackle in college, and no hesitation in spending top-10 money (respective to position) at center for a smart, leader-type. It was a perfect plan, and it was executed even better.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
1) Two games, zero snaps for Daniel Jones and several other starters. Head Coach Joe Judge did state Jones would start (and I am assuming others will too) Sunday against the Patriots, 2 weeks before their first game. Was this a good idea? For a 3rd year quarterback who has shown issues making reads? Playing with a new number one receiver and an offensive line that has barely played with each other? Are we going to give a pass Week 1 against DEN when we hear “shaking off the rust” lines from coaches and players alike? I understand the fear of injury, but this is a game of chemistry and execution. Not fear.
2) I stated that if Kadarius Toney wasn’t playing at full speed by September, I would start to worry. Remember, this is an offense that was in desperate need for more talent at the skill positions. Sure, Barkley is back and Golladay was signed, but Toney is a big part of this offense needing to take a big jump. And I’ll tell you what, there may not be an offense that has a tougher schedule of defenses all things considered this season in the league. There are a few things that have bothered me about this entire situation, but I won’t go too deep into it yet. This kid needs to get on the field though.
3) Are we looking at the deepest defensive NYG has put on the field in a long time? I think so. The secondary is absolutely loaded with good players who can play multiple roles at a credibly high level. The defensive line hosts one of the top tackle-ends in the game in Leonard Williams along with a handful (or more) of very solid, high-upside run stuffers who could offer enough in the pass rush game. Depth is there for a great defense. Are they top heavy enough at EDGE? That is where they lack star power, and every good defense needs to be great at rushing the passer. Most of the pieces are there. Is THE piece there?