Judging preseason games by wins and losses is an exercise in futility, and despite winning their preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills, Giants coaches are spending the day pouring over game film evaluating players and revising practice plans based on the on-the-field results achieved on Sunday. Often players are practice field warriors, but that success doesn’t translate on to the playing field. These men are called “Coach killers.” They have the talent but never capitalize on it. Bill Parcells was an expert at weeding these players off of his roster, and Tom Coughlin is not far behind. Here are some thoughts on who might be moved up the depth chart and who played himself closer to the door.
Offensive line: After getting off to a rough start, the line stabilized and opened some holes for the running backs, and gave Eli Manning the time he needed to complete the short passes that characterize the new offense, but it didn’t happen until the Bills put in their second team on defense. The sack/fumble on the Giants second drive happened because two linemen released prematurely – it appeared to be Justin Pugh and Geoff Schwartz – allowing Buffalo to pressure Manning and cause the fumble. Offensive line coach Pat Flaherty and Coughin will make corrections, and Will Beatty’s return will give the starting line a boost, but patience is needed. The Giants offensive line is completing a transition after losing stalwarts David Diehl and Chris Snee, and lines don’t gel overnight. On the bright side, rookie Weston Richburg acquitted himself nicely in his first NFL action, he likely earned himself some snaps against first line talent in upcoming games.
Tight End: Starter Larry Donnell missed two blocks that resulted in stuffed runs, and caught one of the two passes thrown his way. A disappointing outing after a week where Donnell was on the upswing in practice. Daniel Fells, the other emerging tight end from the group, sprained his knee. Adrien Robinson and Kellen Davis played, but did nothing to distinguish themselves. Rookie Xavier Grimble didn’t make the trip. It’s back to square on in the tight end battle, one which none of these men seems to want to win. Given the Giants treatment of David Wilson, and their history of conservatism with neck injuries, it is unlikely that Jermichael Finley will be joining the team any time soon, as has been speculated by some.
Running Back: A bright spot on offense. Rashad Jennings caught the ball and showed some speed after the catch. He caught all three passes through to him for 20 yards. Jennings running was not as impressive, but didn’t disappoint either, carrying 7 times for 23 yards, a pedestrian 3.3 yards per carry average, but some nice runs mixed in with the stuffs. The star of the running back class was rookie Andre Williams, who ran with power, elusiveness, and burst. He is everything the Giants thought he was as a runner and more, gaining 48 yards on 7 carries. Williams pass catching ability, or lack thereof, was not tested, as no balls were thrown his way. Even veteran Peyton Hillis got into the act. Although starting slow, Hillis showed he has some punch, gaining 36 yards, also on 7 carries. At the bottom of the roster, Kendall Gaskins and Michael Cox looked speedy, but suffered behind the fourth team offensive line and posted horrid stat lines of 5 yards on 5 carries and 3 yards on 9 carries, respectively. Overall, the running game showed the signs of life that were missing all of last season. Without David Wilson, who’s 2014 season, and possibly career, is over, the Giant running game will march on.
As far as the fullbacks are concerned, Henry Hynoski played fewer snaps that John Conner, 10 to 16, but out played him. He blocked much better than the former Jet, and has taken the early lead in fullback battle. Early in the game, Larry Donnell was lining up in the backfield like a fullback, and his blocking was abysmal. In order to maximize the run game, the coaching staff should consider using the fullback more extensively until a reliable tight end can be developed or acquired.
Wide Receiver: The big play star of the night was Cory Washington, who’s 73 yard catch and run is the go to highlight of the game. The workhorse of the group was Marcus Harris, as he and Ryan Nassib continued to display the chemistry developed on the practice field in the game. Harris caught 4 of the 6 passes thrown to him for 49 yards, and led the Giants in receptions. Third year player Preston Parker impressed with his punt returns, showing speed and shiftiness. Parker returned 3 punts for 33 yards in the game. All three young receivers stepped up when opportunity knocked and earned more reps in practice. Trindon Holliday and Mario Manningham best be looking over their shoulder, as others are gaining on them.
Quarterback: Manning look uncomfortable in the new offense, especially on the first series. This comes as no surprise as he played in one system for his first ten years in the league. Some adjustment time is warranted. Nassib continued his roller coaster performance, throwing some nice passes but also getting flustered when pressured and making some poor decisions. Curtis Painter was his usual unspectacular self. Nassib has three more games to prove to the coaching staff that he is more unspectacular that Painter or the Giants are keeping three quarterbacks on the 53 man roster again.
Defensive Line: Up and down against the run, and inconsistent against the pass, the defensive line showed that it’s early and they have some work to do. Damontre Moore got turned thirteen ways from Tuesday on a 19 yard Brice Brown run in the third quarter, but recovered to put some nice pressure on the quarterback. Moore may be a pass rush specialist this season while he continues to polish his run stopping skills. Rookie Jay Bromley made two consecutive brilliant plays against the run on the Bills first drive of the second half and almost a third one on fourth down, showing the potential that made him a third round draft pick. Fellow rookie Jordan Stanton, one of my players to watch, had a critical fourth quarter sack and strip that pushed the Bills into third and impossible and all but ended the game.
Linebackers: Jacquian Williams dropped interception allowed the Bills to kick a field goal on the drive following Manning’s first quarter fumble. Coaches and teammates have been raving about Williams’ improvement, but the fourth year linebacker has always had suspect hands. In he surprise of the night, camp star Devon Kennard did not make a signature play in the game. He has had one huge hit in every practice, and was given the start on the strong side. Credited with two tackles, one for loss, the rookie didn’t have a highlight reel play. Perhaps next week.
Secondary: With the exception of Jayron Hosley, the secondary was the pleasant surprise of the night. Hosley was out of position, penalized twice (one declined), and thrown at frequently. Viewed as on the bubble already given the Giants players acquisitions at cornerback, Hosley will have to drastically improve his performance in the upcoming games to hold on to his job. Coverage by the starters was tight, Bills starter E.J. Manuel completed just 2 of 7 passes for 19 yards. Zack Bowman and Cooper Taylor both had interceptions, Taylor’s coming on a ball batted into the air by Bowman. The first and second team defensive backs seemed to be in good position to make plays on the ball and take good angles. Later in the game, as the talent level diminished, so did the coverage by the Giants secondary. Those players won’t be on the roster in September. Game officials made good on their promise to over penalize the secondary, throwing 5 flags on the Giants defensive backs (4 enforced) and 4 on the Bills (1 enforced). The margin for error around receivers is nil, at least in the early part of the season.
Special Teams: Steve Weatherford has a punt blocked when Taylor missed a block. As Coughlin would say, that’s correctable. All of the kickoffs in the game went for touchbacks, so we did not get a look at the stable of new returners the Giants brought in this season. Punt returns by Parker were discussed above, which brings up to the kicking battle. Both kickers sent their kickoffs for touchbacks – 2 for Josh Brown, two for Brandon McManus. Brown hit both the team’s extra point attempts, the equivalent of 32 yard field goals. McManus drilled his 47 yard field goal try. The first game kicking battle was a draw.
Those that distinguished themselves will be pressed to repeat the effort and build upon it. Those who struggled will see fewer opportunities to gain redemption. There were quite a few bright spots in last night’s game, but also areas to focus upon in the upcoming week. This team had a showing for the first game of the preseason with a half installed new offense and 12 different starters from the presumed opening day 2013 lineup. The key is to show improvement in each of the next three games to allow the starters to rest, as usual in the final game on August 28th.