Who’s Backing Up Eli? Who’s Carrying the Ball? Is Odell Beckham‘s Head Where It Needs to Be? And Does it Even Matter in Preseason?
For the casual fan, watching an NFL team’s first preseason game can be about as enthralling as your average hour on The Weather Channel. Most of the first string guys don’t play much, and some of the guys who appear in this game have a better chance of watching the games from the stands as a beer vendor than making the roster. Most of the time, the main objective in any preseason game is to stay healthy.
This Giants team, however, does have a lot of questions to find answers to between now and the season opener on September 10th. Friday night’s 20-12 loss to the Steelers didn’t give us a lot of answers But let’s dive into those questions anyway and take a look at some positives and some negatives.
The backup quarterback has been a vestigial organ in East Rutherford for the past 13 years. Eli Manning has never missed a game and has rarely missed a snap. Nevertheless, Ryan Nassib‘s lack of progress has caused the Giants to look elsewhere for their insurance policy for the 36-year old Manning.
Geno Smith, though much maligned in his time as a New York Jet, had some very positive moments on Friday. He did complete 10 of 16 passes for 114 yards despite not throwing a touchdown. And he did lead the team on a pair of scoring drives. But, as it often did a year ago, the offense failed to function well in the red zone and they settled for a pair of field goals.
New York traded up in the 3rd round of this year’s draft to take California’s, Davis Webb. The tall 22-year old completed 8 of 16 passes himself but was also unable to find the end zone. Will he be the heir to the big chair? Who knows right now.
Veteran Josh Johnson also took some snaps, completing 5 of 10 passes but not amounting to much. The Giants have rarely carried three quarterbacks during Eli’s tenure, so Johnson’s chances of making the squad are slim.
The most troubling part of last Friday’s loss is the seven sacks allowed by the Giants’ offensive line. Pass protection was a serious issue a year ago. The Giants will only go as far as Eli’s right arm can take them. And if they can’t keep him upright or give him time to read defenses, the team could be plagued with the same turnover issues and 3rd down issues that derailed their passing game in 2016.
Again, it is only preseason. The starting offensive line did not play the entire game So, we have to try to not read too much into this. But the Giants, as they did often in 2016, failed to even approach 100 yards rushing. Their 73 yards rushing and 3.1 yards per carry were alarmingly similar to the team’s struggles from last season.
Rookies Khalid Abdullah and Wayne Gallman combined for just 21 yards on 9 carries. Second-year player Paul Perkins, who emerged late in 2016 as the main featured back in the Giants’ system, carried the ball just five times for three yards in what amounted to a mere cameo. Orleans Darkwa led the team with a paltry 18 yards on just three carries and did boast the longest run of the night.
Shane Vereen‘s injury-plagued season a year ago robbed Eli Manning of an excellent two-way back and a fine third down short yardage passing option. He carried the ball only once on Friday night and did not see much action. His role as a safety valve for their two-time Super Bowl MVP may be critical to this team’s fortunes.
Last January, the Giants’ pass catchers made more headlines for their field trip to Miami after the regular season finale than they did during the team’s wild card loss to Green Bay. This year, they appear to be absolutely stacked. The additions of Brandon Marshall (who did not play Friday) and Evan Engram (who caught only one pass) should add to an already potent passing attack. But it’s hard to evaluate them when the big guns didn’t really take part in the action.
So, what about Odell Beckham? When you can make catches with three fingers and outrun a cheetah, I suppose you don’t need much fine tuning. The key for him is to stay focused. He’s looking for a new contract, and he has to keep that talking point out of the press and his mind on the game. Last year’s love/hate relationship with the kicking net, and his emotional outbursts both on the field and in the locker room caused an unneeded distraction for the team. If he’s all in, he is as good as there is in the NFL and as good as the Giants have ever had.
After spending all that money a year ago, the Giants definitely got something for their money. They ranked near the top of the league in sacks and turnovers created during a year that saw them become feared both up front and in the secondary.
The first team defense, however, didn’t play a whole lot. Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell were also nowhere to be found. So, it’s hard to evaluate exactly how much this first game matters. The defense did record 3 sacks, and they did allow only one offensive touchdown and a pair of field goals. That ought to be good enough to win most games this season if they can be as opportunistic as they were a year ago.
Overall, it was exactly what you’d expect. The first preseason game is a lot like the first day of school or your first day at a new job. You may love it or hate it, but you just don’t know enough to know what to think yet. Hopefully, the Giants will give us a bit more to talk about Monday night in their game against the Cleveland Browns. Then again, it’s the Browns.