The New York Giants surprised their fans with an 11-win campaign in 2016. The season ended in a disappointing fashion in Green Bay. However, there are lots of reasons to be optimistic heading towards their Week 1 opener in Dallas.
Along with that optimism are also serious questions that hopefully will be answered before September. Will the tackles keep Eli Manning upright? Who can emerge from the pack and replace Johnathan Hankins along the defensive line? Will any of the young defensive backs take ownership of the fourth cornerback spot?
Not all of these questions have been answered after the first preseason game, but New York’s matchup against Pittsburgh can begin to shed some light on the players at the bottom half of the roster that may contribute to the organization’s goal of getting Eli his third ring.
Opening it Up
In the English dictionary, the words “predictable” and “unproductive” were replaced with a picture of Ben McAdoo holding his Cheesecake Factory-size play sheet. So it was encouraging to see the Giants open the Pittsburgh game with back-to-back plays utilizing two tight end sets. (They even completed a pass to a fullback!) Rhett Ellison, contract aside, should add a physical element to their offense that was sorely missed last year. For all of the cash the Giants guaranteed him to come to New York, one would like to think he can do a bit more than just seal the edge. It was heartening to see him smoothly haul in three passes from Josh Johnson, though not as energizing as seeing Evan Engram finally get a chance to flash his speed on a bootleg from Geno Smith, who greatly outperformed Johnson.
While the offense is still a bit of an enigma, the defense returns nearly all starters from a unit that ranked second in the NFL. However, even a unit that ranked as one of the best in the league has some holes in the secondary and along the defensive line. Some fans may sleep easier, if just for a night, after seeing Jay Bromley and Dalvin Tomlinson both exhibit the ability to push the pocket, shed their block and bring down the running back on separate plays in the first half.
For the Giants to sustain pressure from September through the beginning of February, it will be imperative for them to find opportunities to give Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul some rest. That’s something they could not do with the lack of depth they had last year. To address those concerns, the team brought in Devin Taylor from Detroit. So far, that investment appears to be paying dividends. Taylor had an active game; he had an interception and tracked down Josh Dobbs on a quarterback run in the first half.
Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are the only locks to make the team at cornerback. Michael Hunter, though, made a strong case he should be added to that list with impressive coverage on back-to-back plays on Darrius Heyward-Bey.
A Look at the Future
The Giants began to spring some leaks once the third and fourth-string players trickled into the game in the second half. Davis Webb finally got an opportunity to show fans why Jerry Reese was enamored with him enough to take him in the third round of the 2017 draft. It’s challenging to evaluate young quarterbacks when they are playing mostly with players who aren’t even worthy of the practice squad. They spend more time dodging unblocked blitzers than they do standing in the pocket reading coverage.
Having said that, Webb exhibited a live arm and a willingness to hang in the pocket to complete throws. He completed half of his passes; his most impressive throw coming on a 19-yard sideline completion to Jerome Lane late in the fourth quarter. He did nothing to discourage me from thinking one day he could be playing football in February.
The teams that last to February aren’t the last teams standing because their stars produced (though it does help). They last because the bottom half of the roster lifts the entire team up. NY doesn’t win the 2007 Super Bowl without a young player named Justin Tuck emerging to take down Tom Brady. The 2011 team doesn’t sniff the postseason if it doesn’t uncover a star receiver from Paterson, NJ. So when B.J. Goodson perfectly times a sack, or Darius Powe makes some tough catches and draws penalties, or Wayne Gallman shows how strong of a runner he is, that stuff matters. It’s those kind of players that can make a good team great. Unfortunately, the Giants lost the game, though they did win the first quarter. And isn’t that all that matters in the first game of the preseason?