New York Giants: Best and Worst of Team's Preseason

Kevin BoilardCorrespondent IAugust 27, 2013

New York Giants: Best and Worst of Team's Preseason

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    The New York Giants are 1-2 in the preseason with one contest to go. Not many starters will see the field for the Giants’ matchup with the New England Patriots on Thursday, Aug. 29, and those who do will not play much.

    That does not mean anything is set in stone, though.

    The Giants still have several questions to address, many of which may still be unanswered by the time New York kicks off the 2013 regular season against the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 8.

    From the three preseason games we have seen so far, there have been several notable takeaways—some positive, some negative. This slideshow will take us through the ups and downs of the Giants' preseason to date.

Best: Explosive Play

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    Twice this preseason, we have seen the Giants offense explode for a huge scoring play.

    First, against the Pittsburgh Steelers, quarterback Eli Manning found slot receiver Victor Cruz deep down the center of the field for a 57-yard score. Cruz shook past both of Pittsburgh’s starting safeties on the play, flipping the defense upside-down once again with his deep-threat ability.

    Two weeks later, on the first offensive snap of the New York Jets game, running back David Wilson took a handoff 84 yards down the left sideline and into the end zone. Not one of the 11 Jets in pursuit of Wilson had a chance to catch him; the young runner’s scintillating afterburners were on full display.

    Cruz and Wilson will be key to the Giants offense in 2013, mainly because they can score from anywhere on the field. No matter the field position, opposing defenses must respect these two players on every single snap of the ball.

    Some say Antonio Cromartie is still searching MetLife Stadium for Cruz after he somehow slipped from his grasp for a 99-yard touchdown in Christmas Eve of 2011.

    In Wilson, the Giants now have a complementary home run hitter who lines up in the backfield. With several plays—both on the ground and through the air—designed to get No. 22 the ball in open space, Wilson projects to be New York’s go-to playmaker in 2013.

    Between the two of them, sparks are sure to fly.

Worst: The Red-Zone Offense

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    While the Giants can count on Cruz and Wilson to score from long distance, the offense has stalled this preseason when the drive has reached the opponent’s 20-yard line.

    In eight red-zone trips, the Giants have not put the ball in the end zone once. It’s difficult to understand how an offense with so many weapons can have so much trouble on the doorstep.

    To make things worse, head coach Tom Coughlin cannot identify the cause of the issue.

    “The one thing that’s really disappointing to me is where we are offensively,” Coughlin said after the Jets game, per Tom Rock of Newsday. “No consistency whatsoever. We’ve got work to do on the offensive side of the ball. Whatever is going on, we’ve got to solve it and we’ve got to solve it fast. We don’t have much time.”

    Those are not encouraging words for a team that is set to kick off the regular season in less than two weeks. Manning and the gang need to figure out what slows the Giants not only in the red zone, but seemingly any time they are granted a short field. The starters mustered just three points off turnovers in the first half of the Jets game, one for each Geno Smith interception.

    Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks insists that New York’s offense will be “in sync and ready to go” for Week 1, per Newsday. That could be the case if fullback Henry Hynoski is able to make a healthy return, adding some muscle to the Giants’ power running game.

Best: Kicking Efficiency

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    Although the Giants’ red-zone offense has left much to be desired, the shortcomings have allowed for plenty of practice reps for new kicker Josh Brown.

    Through three preseason games, Brown has attempted 13 field goals, converting 11. His only misses have been a stray 38-yarder versus the Steelers and a forgivable 53-yarder versus the Jets. Against the Colts, Brown made all four of his attempts.

    In addition to posting an 85 percent preseason conversion rate, more than half of Brown’s field goals have been from at least 40 yards out (6-of-11). With a struggling offense, Brown has been the team’s biggest scoring weapon. Of the 51 points New York has scored this preseason, Brown has accounted for 35 of them.

    While it’s nice to have a reliable kicker, the Giants obviously do not want to rely on Brown as heavily in the regular season. After playing just four games with the Cincinnati Bengals last season, Brown is fitting in just fine with New York. However, the team as a whole will be stronger with him as a complementary player rather than the primary scoring threat.

    As Lawrence Tynes’ replacement, Brown’s focus should be on hitting the clutch kicks. Although it paled in comparison to Tynes’ pair of NFC Championship-winning strokes, Brown’s 40-yard field goal with less than a minute to play sent the Snoopy Bowl into overtime, where the Giants ultimately fell, 24-21.

    Hey, it’s a start.

Worst: The Sprain Train

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    Some of the Giants’ struggles have been a result of injuries. All teams weather preseason nicks and bruises, but New York has sat about a dozen players in each of its three preseason contests this summer.

    The injury bug has induced a game of musical chairs at offensive line. Center David Baas (knee) and right tackle David Diehl (thumb) have both been sidelined recently. Jim Cordle and rookie Justin Pugh are currently filling in for the hurting veterans.  Lately, Brewer has gotten into the mix at guard with Kevin Boothe at center.

    Victor Cruz missed the Jets game with a bruised heel. So did fellow wide receivers Louis Murphy Jr. (leg) and Ramses Barden (knee). Common sense would tell New York to keep the ball on the ground, but that’s tough to do without fullback Henry Hynoski (knee), who has been missing since organized team activities (OTAs) in May.

    Defensively, the Giants are missing arguably their two biggest playmakers in defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and safety Antrel Rolle. Pierre-Paul (back) was recently removed from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, while Rolle is fighting back from an ankle sprain.

    The most devastating injury may be the one to safety Stevie Brown, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the Jets game while returning an interception, per ESPN. Brown will not play in 2013.

    Cornerback Corey Webster (knee/groin) is another injured veteran defender, but it is particularly devastating to see inactive youngsters, for whom the preseason reps are most valuable.

    Defensive tackle Markus Kuhn (knee) has not returned from PUP, while rookie defensive end Damontre Moore (shoulder) has now missed two preseason games. Add second-year cornerback Jayron Hosley to the list, as he sprained his ankle against the Jets on Saturday, per Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com.

    So goes the treacherous world of the NFL.

Best: Defenders Looking to Rebound

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    Despite all the injuries on the defensive side of the ball, the Giants have consistently slowed opposing offenses this preseason. A crew of rebounding defenders has a lot to do with the recent success.

    Defensive end Justin Tuck is the most notable player looking to change his reputation. Determined to prove he is not past his prime, Tuck has once again been a disruptive force along New York’s defensive line. In the past two preseason games, he has recorded three tackles (two solo, two for a loss), a pair of QB hits and even an interception.

    While Tuck tries to prove his poor 2012 was just a bad dream, cornerbacks Terrell Thomas and Aaron Ross are trying to wake up from the nightmare that was last season. Thomas spent all of 2012 rehabilitating from his second consecutive ACL tear. At least Ross was on the field last year, albeit with the two-win Jacksonville Jaguars.

    Both Thomas and Ross are glad to have another shot with the Giants, and so is defensive tackle Shaun Rogers. The 350-pound run-stuffer missed all of last season with a blood clot in his leg. He is fitting in nicely with New York, which is starving for a dominant run defender.

    After struggling against the run a season ago, the Giants have been stout up front this preseason. They have not yet allowed an opponent to crack the 100-yard mark, and they have yielded fewer than 2.5 yards per carry through three games.

    Those are solid stats for a defensive platoon with several key contributors currently out of commission.

Worst: Lack of Practice

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    Tom Coughlin has publicly lamented (per ESPN New York) the team’s shortage of practice reps, which is a result of the league’s new collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

    With two-a-days outlawed and padded practices limited, training camp has come and gone in a flash. With the second round of cuts around the corner, have the Giants seen enough of each player to confidently make the correct decisions? Maybe not, but every team is operating under the same compressed conditions.

    However, does the new CBA have even larger league-wide implications? Some believe so.

    Many blame the alleged increase in preseason injuries on the decrease in quality practice time. Could that be the reason why so many Giants are suddenly nicked up? There is no way to know for certain, but it sure looks as if the agreement, which was designed to improve player safety, is having the opposite effect.

    Now, only one exhibition contest removed from the regular season, the Giants still appear to be several steps away from a finalized product. The offense has a lot of work to do and little time to get it done. New York would have benefited from a couple—dare I say—live double sessions.

    They’re still the New York football Giants, right?