The Giants won this game with their best showing of the preseason, but the story of this game is Geoff Schwartz’s toe. The Giants starting left guard, signed as a free agent in April to stabilize their offensive line, was carted off the field in the second quarter of the game, when he couldn’t put any weight on his foot. Of all the possible outcomes, dislocated toe is among the best diagnoses for Schwartz’s toe. In his post game press conference, Tom Coughlin called the injury serious, and was unable to provide a timetable for his return. However, Schwartz dodged the issue of a broken bone or severe ankle sprain that would have him sidelined for months.
The Giants starting offense showed some signs of life, despite continued struggles by the offensive line, both before and after the Schwartz injury. The Giants received the opening kickoff and on the first play, Manning completed his first preseason pass to Victor Cruz. Rashad Jennings picked up a first down and 6 more yards on the next play and it appeared that the Giants were going to get a drive going. A drop by Jerrell Jernigan on 3rd and 4 stopped the drive and forced a punt.
The second drive would have been a three and out, but it was extended by a defensive pass interference penalty on cornerback Kyle Wilson. Manning found Rueben Randle for a 26 yard gain on which the receiver made an adjustment and plucked the ball out of the air for the catch. That drive stalled when Will Beatty whiffed in pass protection, and Jason Babin knocked the ball out of Eli Manning hand. The Giants recovered the fumble, but not momentum and were again forced to punt. Offensive line breakdowns were frequent, and Manning was anticipating pressure even when it wasn’t there, making him uncomfortable and hurried in the pocket, causing off target and ill advised passes.
The Jets started to find some success against the Giants first team defense, ripping off yards in chunks, as Chris Johnson had runs of 16 and 17 yards, and quarterback Geno Smith found wide receiver Eric Decker for a 27 yard gain. The drive stalled in the red zone and the Jets settled for a 31 yard Nick Folk field goal. Jason Pierre-Paul gave the Giants a scare when he went down on the last play of the drive, and had team doctors looking at his right knee. He was able to leave under his own power and following tests on the sideline, returned to the game. Disaster averted.
Following a three and out by the Giants that included a delay of game penalty, an issue that plagued the offense under Kevin Gilbride, Steve Weatherford punted the ball back the the Jets and Smith drove them 66 yards for a touchdown. The drive included Chris Ivory runs of 18 and 23 yards and a 1 yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Jace Amaro. Jon Beason’s return from a foot injury will bolster the run defense, which was suspect against the Jets formidable ground attack.
The teams traded punts until the Giants took over with 1:53 left in the half, still trailing 10-0. While the starting offense showed some signs of improvement, they had not put together a sustained drive that is the trademark of the west coast system. Starting at their own 9 yard line, Manning connected with Jernigan and Cruz for a string of short completions to put the ball on the Giants 39. Rolling right, Manning attempted either throw the ball away for squeeze it into Cruz in double coverage, and Wilson appeared to intercept the ball. A review showed that he stepped out of bounds and failed to re-establish himself on the playing field and the interception was overturned. It was a poor decision by Manning, fueled by pressure, and almost gave the Jets excellent field position with 1:05 left in the half.
Manning then came to life, connecting with Cruz for two 18 yard completions, mixing in a short pass to Jernigan and a Rashad Jennings run, before finding Randle in the end zone to cap the 11 play, 91 yard drive and cut the Jets lead to 10-7 at the half. It was his final drive of the night and capped an improved, but uneven performance that saw him complete 12 of 21 passes for 139 yards.
Michael Vick took over for Smith on first drive of the third quarter and got off to a rough start courtesy of defensive end Damontre Moore. Moore sacked Vick on the first play and recovered a fumbled hand off on the second, setting Ryan Nassib, entering in relief of Manning, up with the ball at the Jets 16. Nassib capitalized on the field position, finding fullback Henry Hynoski for a three yard touchdown, giving the Giants their first lead of the night, 14-10.
Guiding the Jets first team offense against the Giants second team defense, Vick drove the team 76 yards on 11 plays and found Eric Decker for a 5 yard touchdown to take the lead back 17-14. It was Vick’s last drive before giving way to Matt Simms, son of former Giant Phil Simms. The teams exchanged punts and then Nassib connected with Preston Parker on a perfect 39 yard touchdown to give the Giants back a lead that they held as the third quarter ended.
Simms started the fourth quarter with the ball and, aided by a Charles James personal foul, drive the Jets 82 yards on 7 plays, including a 45 yard gain to receiver Clyde Gates. Simms found Greg Salas for an 11 yard touchdown and did a salsa dance to celebrate taking back the lead, 24-21, in a seesaw affair. It would be the Jets last lead of the night. Nassib answered with a 9 play 75 yard drive that featured rookie running back Andre Williams and ended with a one yard plunge by Williams.
On the subsequent drive, Jay Bromley, Ross Weaver and Brandon Jackson all made solid plays to stop the Jets, the final play on 4th down and 4 and the Giants took over at the Jets 37 with 3:05 left, the lead, and fourth quarter specialist Corey Washington in the game. Following two Kendall Gaskins runs that netted 6 yards, Nassib found Washington for a 31 yard touchdown, and a 35-21 led, cementing the victory and 4-0 preseason record.
Winning preseason games is secondary to staying healthy and showing progress. The Giants have run defense issues and a critical offensive line problem. Beason’s return should solve the former, but the offense line could plague the team all season. Time and repetition may allow them to work around the issue, and the running game appears improved, but in the NFL, as goes the offensive line, so goes the offense. Schwartz is scheduled to have a MRI today to assess the extent of the damage to his toe and length of his absence. If he is out for an extended period, it will delay development of the line and set the Giant offense back further.
Also injured the game were wide receiver Marcus Harris, who injured his right shoulder and is expected to miss 3 to 4 weeks. This may end the first year player’s season by seeing him placed on injured reserve. Harris had been impressive and making a strong case for a roster spot. Cornerback Zack Bowman bruised his triceps and defensive tackle Markus Kuhn suffered a lower leg injury and did not return to the game, however, neither injury is considered serious.
Although he didn’t play in the game, Odell Beckham warmed up with this teammates and ran full speed, demonstrating he did not suffer a serious setback this week. It would be a major step in his recovery if he were able to play against the New England Patriots. Others who did not dress for the game included cornerback Prince Amukamara, linebacker Jon Beason, offensive tackle James Brewer, offensive tackle Charles Brown, tight end Xavier Grimble, wide receiver/returner Trindon Holliday, cornerback Jayron Hosley, and safety Cooper Taylor. Taylor may be effected by the severity of Schwartz’s injury as Schwartz would supplant him as Injured Reserve, Designated for Return candidate if the MRI results show that he needs a longer recovery period.
There were positive take-aways from the game. Nassib showed development with his 8 for 12, 103 yard, 3 touchdown, 0 interception performance. Curtis Painter did not play, perhaps signaling that his time with the Giants is coming to a close. While Nassib is not ready to start, he did demonstrate the ability to handle backup quarterback duties, allowing the team to carry only two quarterbacks. Damontre Moore was disruptive and penetrated the Jets starting offensive line multiple times. Cruz, Randle, and Manning appeared to be on the same page for the first time in the preseason. Jennings and Williams were both effective running the ball, which will be a staple of the Giants offense, especially early in the season.
Coughlin expects to play the starters for one or two series against the Patriots before giving way to the backups. The fourth preseason game tends to be counter climactic to the third, which is viewed as a dress rehearsal for the regular season opener, but not this Thursday, as you will have the chance to come behind the scenes as Giants360 has media access to the game. If permissible, we will be live tweeting from inside the stadium, inside the press box, locker room, and post game press conferences, and invite you to follow with the hashtag #GIANTSRIDEALONG. It all starts Thursday, August 28th, at 4:30.