For as long as training camp and the preseason were for the New York Giants, it still doesn’t seem like it was long enough.
Sure, the Giants finished their preseason schedule undefeated in five games. However, we all know that the results of those contests don’t count, and the final stats are misleading since players who are no longer on the roster, let alone in the league, helped to contribute to the flawless record.
With that all said, the Giants hardly look like a team that’s ready to start the regular season on Monday night in Detroit against the Lions.
The offense is still a work in progress, and as quarterback Eli Manning correctly noted when he recently spoke to reporters, the new offense could take several more weeks before it fully jells.
I think it’s still trying to get it exactly the way we want it. It’s a work in progress. It’s not the final product right now. It’s going to be, the more games, the more plays we get, the more practice…there’s definitely room for improvement and that will be a season-long situation, which is, I think, normal. That’s not a bad thing. I think we have to know what we do well and where we need to make our improvements and be dedicated to being harsh on ourselves to make those improvements.
On Monday, Manning acknowledged that the passing game is still behind the running game, but he didn’t sound too concerned. “We made some strides, made some plays, so we just have to keep protecting the ball, playing smart. We’ve gotten into pretty good third down situations as of late; we’ve just got to convert them.”
It’s not going to be easy, though. Let’s go ahead and break it all down.
The Giants will face the Lions for the 42nd time in the regular season. The regular-season series is currently tied, 20-20-1, but the Giants have won the last three meetings. The Lions has not beaten the Giants in Detroit since 1983.
|Giants at Lions: The Competitive Edge|
It’s known that Giants quarterback Eli Manning was a turnover machine last year, throwing a career-high 27 interceptions.
However, as ESPN notes, Matthew Stafford of the Lions threw 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in his final eight games last season, tying him with Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco for the most picks thrown over that span.
Both are learning a new system, though in Manning’s case, he still seems to be trying to find a comfort zone.
While preseason stats don’t count, Stafford was able to complete 70 percent of his throws, the goal set for Manning, per ESPN.
The Giants vastly upgraded their running game in the offseason.
How impressive was the Giants running game? The tandem of Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams combined for 407 yards on 73 carries with three touchdowns—even behind the constantly changing offensive line, with the big run being a 75-yarder by Jennings.
That tops the preseason numbers of the Lions’ projected tandem of Joique Bell and Reggie Bush, who combined for 147 yards on 18 carries and one touchdown.
The Lions drafted Eric Ebron eighth overall—the same guy many Giants fans were hoping would fall to New York at No. 12. Ebron finished the 2014 preseason with seven catches for 88 yards.
While that number of catches was almost equivalent to what projected stating Giants tight Larry Donnell generated during exhibition games, the difference was in yards after the catch. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Ebron averaged 12.6 YAC to Donnell’s 3.3.
The Giants three-wide set probably will be Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle and Jerrel Jernigan. That trio, in five preseason games, combined for 14 receptions and just one touchdown.
The Lions added Golden Tate, formerly of the Seattle Seahawks, to complement Kevin Ogletree and Calvin “Megatron” Johnson in the passing attack.
They also have Ryan Broyles, a slot receiver who is trying to bounce back after missing most of last year with an Achilles injury.
Getting back to Johnson, he has faced the Giants three times in the regular season, according to Pro Football Reference. In those games, he caught 11 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns.
Opening night is less than a week away, and there are still questions about the Giants offensive line.
To recap the rest of the projected starting line, Will Beatty and Justin Pugh will play left and right tackle respectively. J.D. Walton will play at center.
At guard, the picture is less clear. Will the Giants go with rookie Weston Richburg on the left side and John Jerry on the right, or will newcomer Adam Snyder be able to show enough to slide into a starting role?
The Lions might have a new offensive system, but their projected starting offensive line—left tackle Riley Reiff, left guard Rob Sims, center Dominic Raiola, right guard Larry Warford and right tackle LaAdrian Waddle—is a lot further along at this point that the Giants line.
The Giants had no choice but to replace one-half of their starting defensive line from last year. Johnathan Hankins is projected to replace Linval Joseph while Mathias Kiwanuka will look to bounce back from an off year as the projected starter in place of Justin Tuck.
New York is also hoping that Jason Pierre-Paul returns to his 2011 form when he logged 16.5 sacks. Pierre-Paul claims he is healthy and poised to have a big year, but as Coughlin likes to say, “Talk is cheap; play the game.”
The Lions’ strength is in their interior, where Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh against the Giants’ interior offensive line is not a pleasant thought. Second-year defensive end Ezekiel Ansah recorded 8.0 sacks as a rookie in 12 games, the most by a Lions rookie since Suh recorded 10 in 2010.
Barring any setbacks, the Giants will get middle linebacker Jon Beason, their emotional leader, back for this game.
However, don’t look for Beason, who figures to get about 25-30 snaps, to be an every-down player this week.
Weak-side starter Jacquian Williams and rookie Devon Kennard, both of whom had strong camps, will give the Giants the edge at this unit. Both have been solid in coverage and against the run.
Kennard could even start on the outside this week if the coaches decide to leave Jameel McClain in the middle and not start Beason.
If there’s one thing that you can count on from the Giants this year, it’s that for as long as cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is healthy, he’ll be assigned the opponent’s best receiver, as head coach Tom Coughlin told Jordan Raanan during the NFL winter meetings.
Prince Amukamara, who should be full go after missing a few days with a strained groin, will likely draw coverage duties against Golden Tate. Last year when Tate was with the Seahawks, Amukamara held the receiver to two receptions for 25 yards, per PFF.
The indoor stadium should even out the kicking equation, but when it comes to return specialists, Detroit’s Jeremy Ross gives the Lions the edge.
Ross has the size and speed to break one open. It will be interesting to see if the Giants kick the ball away from him.
Giants punt returner Preston Parker seems to be a fumble waiting to happen. Don’t be surprised if the Giants go back to Rueben Randle in this all-important role, especially if Parker should muff another punt, as he did in the preseason finale against New England.
The first official injury report for the Giants-Lions Monday night game won't be available until Thursday. Here, though, is a look at where the Giants are believed to stand as of Wednesday.
|New York Giants Week 1: Projected Injury Report|
|WR Odell Beckham, Jr.||Hamstring||Out|
|OT Charles Brown||Shoulder||Questionable|
|G/T Brandon Mosley||Back||Questionable|
|G/T James Brewer||Back||Doubtful|
|LB Jon Beason||Foot||Probable|
|CB Prince Amukamara||Groin||Probable|
|DT Markus Kuhn||Ankle||Probable|
|Based on Monday's Practice|
Key Injury: Receiver Odell Beckham, Jr.
Without receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in the lineup, the Giants three-wide package will likely consist of Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle and Jerrel Jernigan.
That’s not exactly a scary looking package. Cruz, of course, is the big play threat, but Randle, who is currently projected to be the No. 2 wideout on the Giants, had a disappointing preseason.
Jernigan’s numbers were slightly better—per Pro Football Focus (subscription required)—as he caught seven of 12 passes thrown his way for 63 yards and racked up 17 yards after the catch.
While Jernigan didn’t drop any passes, he also didn’t score any touchdowns, which contributed to head coach Tom Coughlin telling reporters last month that the progress the young receiver showed at the end of the 2013 season “had not necessarily” carried over to this summer.
Toss in the fact that the Giants still don’t know what they’re going to get from their tight end group, and the offense could very well be looking at another season of teams blanketing Cruz to take him out of the game, gambling that Randle, Jernigan and the tight ends will be unable to exploit one-on-one matchups.
This game marks the NFL regular-season debut of two coordinators: Ben McAdoo, the Giants offensive coordinator, and Teryl Austin, the Lions defensive coordinator.
While McAdoo has never before been an offensive coordinator at any level, Austin, who has primarily coached defensive backs during his college and NFL career, did have a stint as a defensive coordinator for the Florida Gators in 2010, his unit ranking ranked ninth nationally in total defense.
According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Austin runs a 4-3 defense, “that’s fast, physical and mixes a variety of blitzes and coverages.”
Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, in a conference call with the Detroit media, admitted that it’s going to be a challenge to try to gauge Austin's tendencies, especially considering the Lions haven’t unleashed their entire defensive playbook.
“I think it’s always going to be an issue when you don’t have a lot to go by,” Coughlin said. “You pick your spots in the preseason games and study basically the ones that are in there, or notice anything different or unusual pressure or a coverage or an adjustment to a coverage. Other than that, we’ve got to go play and play our game, be prepared to adjust no matter what happens.”
Quarterback Eli Manning, in a separate conference call with the Detroit media, said the key to determining what might be coming could lie in studying the Lions’ personnel.
“I think we’ll obviously watch the preseason to get an idea of the personnel and what they’ve been doing. Also, look back at Baltimore, where he (Teryl Austin) came from and see what schemes they ran there as well to get an idea of what might come on Monday night.”
The good news, though, is that just as the Lions defense hasn’t shown much, neither has the Giants offense, which Coughlin admitted is still a work in progress but one that has also made strides.
“I don’t feel like anybody claims that they’re where they want to be before the season’s even begun. We feel like the extra game helped us and we’ve worked hard at it.”
Summary and Prediction
Although the Giants claim that they haven’t unleashed the entire playbook on offense, there were enough breakdowns in the passing game to raise some red flags, including timing issues, poor decisions by quarterback Eli Manning, protection problems and miscommunications.
If the Giants can’t pass the ball with any success, they could be looking at a very long afternoon if Suh and company pick up where they left off last year in defending the run, when they finished sixth in rushing yards allowed per game (99.8).
Thispreseason, the Lions finished fourth, allowing opponents an average of 81.5 rushing yards per game.
If the Giants are going to win this game, they’re probably going to need their defense to bring its “A” game in terms of not only containing the Lions’ weapons but also in terms of creating a few turnover opportunities.
Final score: Lions 27, Giants 10.
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