New York Giants: What We've Learned Through Week 3 of Preseason
The New York Giants might have an undefeated preseason record, but let’s not make any mistake about where head coach Tom Coughlin’s team is after four weeks of training camp and three preseason games.
There are a several concerns about the starting offense and defense— concerns that, for whatever the reason, still haven’t been worked out following 12 spring practices, four weeks of training camp and three preseason games.
Lest anyone think that the Giants are a lost cause, there have been a few positive developments to emerge as well.
So with that all said, here’s a look at the seven revelations to emerge after three preseason games.
The Offense Is Behind on Its Progress
When Ben McAdoo was hired to replace Kevin Gilbride as the Giants’ offensive coordinator, he told reporters on a conference call what he envisioned for the team’s new offensive identity.
“We’re going to be sound, smart and tough. We’re going to be committed to discipline and poise, and at the end of the day, we’re going to hang our hat on the fundamentals.”
So far, however, the starting offense has been anything but fundamentally sound, tough or consistent.
We’ll start with quarterback Eli Manning, who has yet to complete a pass for more than 10 yards.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Manning has taken 57 snaps through three games and has dropped back to pass 19 of those times.
His numbers? He’s completed seven out of 16 attempts for—wait for it—49 yards. He’s been sacked three times, and while he hasn’t thrown an interception yet, he also hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass.
What about his top two receivers, Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle? Good question!
Cruz has yet to record a reception in 55 snaps played, and wasn’t even targeted in a game until this week, when Manning threw at him twice.
The running game? Glad you asked.
The Giants’ two longest runs thus far have been a 73-yard touchdown rush by Rashad Jennings against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2, and a 21-yard run by rookie Andre Williams.
Deduct the 73-yard run by Jennings, and the Giants are averaging 100 yards rushing per game—not bad, but certainly a figure that should be better considering the upgrades that were made to the offensive line in the offseason.
Numbers aside, the biggest problem for the Giants offense has benefits inability to establish any sort of rhythm to sustain drives.
The sad thing about the offense is that with two weeks to go in the preseason, there is a real possibility that the unit might not click by opening night, a fact that head coach Tom Coughlin has prepared himself for.
“We have had in the last few years unproductive preseasons or unproductive games in the preseason, and we still have been able to come out and play well early on even offensively,” he told reporters on a conference call the day after the Colts game.
“Now in the regular season is that the case here? I don’t know that. We are going to see how that goes, but is there a concern? Sure it is a concern.”
That’s not exactly a reassuring statement from the Giants’ head coach, who admits that time is running out on the preseason and that the offense isn’t a little further along.
“Anytime you set up a schedule with a preseason you expect to be at certain points along the way,” he said. “So it is disappointing not be at least a little more advanced than we are.”
Unfortunately, the only choice everyone seems to have is to ride out this storm and hope that once McAdoo and company begin to game plan to address remaining weaknesses and such, things will get better in a hurry.
The Starting Defense Isn't That Much Better
At the start of training camp, safety Antrel Rolle told Brian Lewis of the New York Post that the current Giants defense is “one of the most talented teams I have ever been on, if not the most talented.”
That might still turn out to be the case, though it would be hard to argue that last week, the starting defense took a step back as a unit.
New York simply had very few answers to counter what quarterback Andrew Luck was doing to them.
Luck finished 12 of 18 for 89 yards and one touchdown. He consistently managed to escape any pass rush the Giants were able to mount, and he drove his team deep into Giants’ territory on two of the four drives he was in the game to spot the Colts a 10-0 lead before he left the game.
If that isn’t bad enough, the Giants’ starting defensive line remains without a sack. That includes defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who insisted to reporters that he’s “110 percent” healthy and ready to have a big year.
Pierre-Paul hasn’t been the sole cause of the starting defense's recent struggles, though. The revamped defensive secondary had its share of issues covering the Colts receivers, including old friend Hakeem Nicks, who finished as Indy's leader in receiving yards with 53.
“We weren’t able to stop them in any consistent fashion at all,” Coughlin said of his team’s defense. “We had a play here and a play there, but by in large it wasn’t what we expected out of this particular game for our team.”
Again, perhaps game planning will help cure what ailed the Giants defense moving forward. If not, they could be looking at a long year.
The New Points of Emphasis Are Extreme
This offseason, the NFL Competition Committee defined several new points of emphasis, many of which now affect what defenders can and can’t do.
That’s led to an alarming increase in penalties, which, as NFL writer Brian McIntyre noted, has resulted in 696 penalties called through 30 preseason games, an average of 23.2 penalties per game.
What has that meant for the Giants? Per data pulled from NFL Game Statistics Information System, the Giants have committed 35 penalties in three preseason games.
Of those 35, the infractions, 18 (51.4 percent), have been either defensive holding, defensive pass interference, illegal use of hands or illegal contact calls against the defense.
Unfortunately, the rules are what they are, which means the players are going to have to deal with the parameters, however ridiculous, they’ve been given.
It remains to be seen just what kind of an effect this is going to have on the Giants moving forward, but judging by the preseason numbers, 14 of the aforementioned 18 Giants defensive penalties have resulted in first downs for the opponent, which can’t be a good thing.
Teams are busy enough with trying to work with players to install systems and different personnel packages that they don't have the ability to spend much time trying to refine the techniques of veteran players.
Factor in the limitations imposed by the CBA regarding how much time the coaches can actually spend with the players on the field, and you’d be perfectly justified in wondering just what kind of an effect these rules are going to have on the finished product.
The Tight End Competition Drags on
The Giants starting tight end picture seems to change as often as the daily special at the local favorite eatery.
The problem here is a lack of consistency. One day it could be Larry Donnell looking like a potential All-Pro. The next day it could be Adrien Robinson having the big day in practice.
“The tight end group is similar to the rest of the offense at this point,” offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo told reporters last week. "We will take a couple of steps forward, a step back. Every day is a new day. They just need to keep pushing forward.”
With two preseason games left, it looks like Donnell and Kellen Davis will be tow of the players who will fill out the depth chart at that spot.
They could be hoping that fullback Henry Hynoski, whom head coach Tom Coughlin mentioned has been learning some of the tight end’s responsibilities, is the answer.
More likely, they're probably planning to scan the waiver wire for another option if their other players don’t pan out as they hope.
LB Jacquian Williams Has Developed into an Every-Down Player
Linebacker Jacquian Williams doesn’t say very much. Instead, he prefers to let his play do his talking for him.
So far so good for the fourth-year linebacker. Williams, who spent part of 2012 and 2013 fighting through a knee injury, is fully healthy.
He’s also been quietly been emerging into an every-down linebacker who is playing a smarter game both in coverage and against the run.
Part of Williams’ coming of age has been the presence of seasoned linebackers Jon Beason and Jameel McClain, who have taken on the role of mentor for the younger linebackers in the room.
“It’s a great thing,” Williams told Inside Football. “They keep the room structured, and that’s the good thing about those guys. They give a lot of good points about things that need to be fixed.”
The Beason effect on Williams actually began last year.
“I don’t think I’ve made him better, but I have challenged him,” Beason told me last year. “My message to him is, ‘Hey, you are a specimen—6’3”, long arms—so let’s play like it. Really go out there and focus on one individual play and just let people see your talent and effort.’”
Message received. In coverage, Williams has allowed five receptions for 29 yards and has broken up one pass. That translates to a 78.9 NFL rating, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Williams has also shown some improvement playing against the run. Per PFF's signature stats, Williams has played in 24 run defense snaps and has recorded three tackles, and one stop for zero or negative yardage, with no missed tackles.
The Starting Offensive Line Is Subject to Change
As part of his much-justified rant about his offense, head coach Tom Coughlin took aim at the offensive line when a reporter asked him if he expected to make any changes on the unit.
“We are not stuck with anything,” he said. “Just because five guys trot out there doesn’t mean that’s the starting unit.”
The five “starters” thus far have been left tackle Will Beatty, who finally returned to game action this past weekend (Charles Brown filled in for him in the previous two games); left guard Geoff Schwartz, center J.D. Walton, right guard Brandon Mosley and right tackle Justin Pugh.
How has the offensive line done through three preseason games? According to Pro Football Focus’ signature stats (subscription required), the Giants offensive line has participated in 93 passing plays (note: these are not broken out according to first, second or third string units).
The unit has allowed 18 total pressures (sacks, hits and hurries), tied for the 11th most in the NFL with three other teams.
If changes are going to be made, they most likely will come along the interior, which was renovated in the offseason.
One possibility might be to move Schwartz back to his more natural right guard spot, slide Walton to the left guard and plop Weston Richburg in at center.
However, it’s unlikely the coaching staff is going to want a rookie making the line calls, so the more logical move might be to leave Walton at center, insert Richburg at left guard and move Schwartz to right guard.
“It’s a work in progress and we are trying like heck to speed that up, but we do have to make sure we are looking at all of the possibilities,” Coughlin said.
QB Ryan Nassib Is Improving
Despite the fact that Curtis Painter took all the reps with the second team offense and played last weekend with the second team, there really wasn’t much to read into as far as the backup quarterback battle was concerned.
The “demotion” of Nassib, the NFL’s preseason passing yardage leader with 220 yards, to third string might very well have been related to Painter having played well in the second game (against the Steelers), thus earning a chance to compete with the second-string.
As injuries begin to mount and threaten to affect the 53-man roster numbers, the Giants’ desire to keep two quarterbacks hasn’t changed.
Nassib, the most mobile of the three quarterbacks currently on the roster, might not be a long-term solution right now if something were to happen to starter Eli Manning, but he’s certainly proven so far that he can be effective in relief.