The Giants face the Pittsburgh Steelers at Metlife Stadium, tonight at 7:30 PM, the second straight preseason the two teams are meeting. The Giants are favored by 2.5 points and the over/under is 37. It’s the Giants second preseason game and the first for Pittsburgh. Expect to see starters for the first quarter before substitutions become frequent and liberal as both coaches use the game as it’s intended, to evaluate young players and roster depth. Here are a few things to keep your eye on as you enjoy the game, televised locally on NBC. Be On the Look Out for:
Offensive Line: Left tackle Will Beatty has been declared out for this game as he continues to recover from his broken leg. Left guard Geoff Schwartz tweaked his knee in practice on Wednesday and will see limited action, if any. That will give backups Charles Brown and rookie Weston Richburg valuable playing time against the Steelers formidable starting defensive line. The Giants first team offense was ineffective against the Bills starting defense in their first outing and need a better showing tonight. The Performance Enhancing Drug suspension of Eric Herman opens the door for Dallas Reynolds to take a spot on the opening day roster. He plays center and guard, but needs a strong showing in the preseason to hold on to a spot. Line play in the second and third quarters is key as it features the players that will be providing regular season depth.
Running Backs: David Wilson is done with football. Peyton Hillis is hurt, again. That leaves starter Rashad Jenning, rookie Andre Williams, and second year players Michael Cox and Kendall Gaskins to carry the ball. Cox and Gaskins will get the ball for the majority of the second half. Expect to see fullbacks Henry Hynoski and John Conner get some carries as well as they continue to fight for one roster spot. If the depth proves in inadequate, there are ball control problems, and Hillis isn’t back at practice next week, expect the team to bring in a free agent to bolster the suddenly bare cupboard.
The Young Receivers: The first four roster spots at wide receiver are locked in: Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, Jerrell Jernigan, and Odell Beckham. The next one or two spots, depending on how many the team ultimately keeps, will be decided by their performance in the preseason and on special teams. Marcus “Soup” Harris has been the star of camp and did well against Buffalo, earning him first team reps in practice. Mario Manningham has been rounding back into shape and making a push to provide a veteran presence on the receiving corps. He does not bring a lot of value to special teams and may be facing an uphill battle. Cory Washington had the big play in the Buffalo game and has flashed in practice. His 6’4″ frame would provide the height otherwise lacking in the position. Preston Parker made some nifty moves returning punts and threw his hat into the ring for a roster spot based on special teams contributions. These four players performance in the second half will bear watching.
The New “NASCAR” pass rush: If Robert Ayers is able to play tonight, we should our first glimpse at the pass rush package that the team has been tinkering with at practice. The original NASCAR pass rush lead the Giants to victory in Super Bowl 42, and featured Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Mathias Kiwanuka, and Justin Tuck. The new NASCAR, will showcase the pass rushing talents of Jason Pierre-Paul, Ayers, holdover Kiwanuka, and second year player Damontre Moore. If the Giants break it out tonight, it will only be for a play or two in the first quarter, so don’t blink or you might miss it.
The Young Defensive Backs: Safety Cooper Taylor and cornerback Zack Bowman excelled against Buffalo, making and recovering from on field mistakes and showing that they deserve roster spots in September. Cornerback Charles James has been a ball hawk in practice, and is pushing for a spot at a very deep position. Rookie safety Nat Berhe acquired a cool nickname this week,”The Missile,” but didn’t get his name called in last week’s game. On the other end of the spectrum is cornerback Jayron Hosley, who virtually played himself off the roster last week, but will try to do damage control against Pittsburgh. The secondary is shaping up to be the best the Giants have fielded in a long time, and watching the bevy of talented young players battle it out for roster spots in the second half will be entertaining.
Devon Kennard: Kennard was the undisputed star of the show early in camp, but has been eclipsed by Harris in the past week. Expectations were sky high going into the Buffalo game and Kennard did not make the highlight reel hit fans expected. He wasn’t called out for poor play, like Hosley, but given his daily lights out smack downs in practice, Kennard was predicted to lay out at least on Bill in the Hall of Fame game. He started, and while failing to make a big splash, did hold his own against Buffalo’s starting line. Tonight is his second chance to make a first impression.
There’s your six pack of items to look for in the game. While your friends are complaining that the second half is boring you can point out that dreams are being realized and crushed right before their eyes and mention they players they should be watching. And if you’re inclined to wager on preseason games, take the points. These are two solid teams with some depth.
Check back tomorrow for a game review and see who’s pushing for more playing time and who moved closer to the door.