Throughout the off-season, the Giants have done their very best to avoid being sucked into the Hard Knocks circus that is the New York Jets. Most Giants have dismissed their brash stadium shareholders, stating that they will take care of their business on the field.
Come Monday, the Giants will have an opportunity to do so. Or at least, that is what will be said leading up to the game. Forget the columns that will be inked emphasizing the importance of Monday’s showdown; this game has no bearing on anything at all.
If the Jets win, we will hear for one week that the Jets have cemented their legacy as the true owners of the New Meadowlands Stadium.
Forget that it was the immortal Kellen Clemens that ultimately led the team to victory, and ignore the fact that it was the soon to be unemployed Seth Williams that got burnt for the game-winning touchdown, this game will prove that the Jets are the real show in town.
That’s what’s at stake in this game. While the post-game banter following a Jets victory would be irritating, it’s completely moot in the grand scheme of the 2010 season. Here’s a look at what truly is critical this Monday night for the men in blue.
1. Avoid injuries
At this point, this probably goes without saying. On Friday, the Giants were forced to practice with safeties playing receiver and linebackers playing tight end. Yikes. Luckily, no injury sustained in training camp has cost any Giants their seasons—yet.
In 2007, I vividly remember a fired up Ray Lewis leading a pre-game huddle that would be more fitting for that forgettable meeting the Giants and Ravens had in 2000, not a pre-season game.
The Ravens flew around that night, leaving four significant Giants injured. While Ray Lewis was the one visibly pumping his players up, I have to believe it was Defensive Coordinator Rex Ryan pulling the strings.
I expect that type of energy to be present on Monday night. Despite the meaningless nature of this game, it is important that the Giants match the Jets’ bravado. At a minimum, we know Terrell Thomas will, as he is currently engaged in a war of words with Bart Scott.
If they don’t, there’s a good chance they will be dominated out of the gate. With the Hard Knocks cameras rolling, and everything “at stake,” the Jets are going to start the game like it’s December. The Giants will stay in control, but in order to avoid physical issues, they better bring it.
2. Who’s going to emerge as punt returner?
Aaron Ross entered the draft as a recipient of the Jim Thorpe Trophy, an achievement earned by the nation’s top cornerback. But he also worked double-duty as a dangerous return man in 2006, averaging 10+ yards a return, and even taking one to the house.
Domenik Hixon’s mini-camp mini-disaster has opened up the gates for a new punt returner to emerge. Aaron Ross could be his replacement, but the last time the Giants experimented with a cornerback who wears number 31 at kick returner—well that didn’t end so great.
Mario Manningham was given an opportunity to return punts last year, and he showed some of the explosiveness that was last seen at Michigan after being invisible his rookie season.
But there was a latent sense of impending doom seemingly every time he waited on the ball. The talent is certainly there, but Tom Coughlin is extremely intolerant of special teams gaffes, and he has the foresight to realize which returner is prone to silly mistakes that could completely change the course of the game.
Other candidates for the job include training camp sweetheart Victor Cruz, and the uncuttable Sinorice Moss. Special teams have proven to be a real asset for teams allowing them to generate good field position on a consistent basis. It’s important that the Giants find a reliable returner with the ability to break one every now and then. The search begins Monday.
3. How will Andre Brown look?
Before he sustained a torn Achilles tendon, Andre Brown was raising eyebrows in training camp. He quickly drew comparisons to Derrick Ward for his smooth running style and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. While the injury was upsetting, the Giants still appeared to be in good hands with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw splitting the load.
That turned out to not be the case. Jacobs was a shell of himself last season, and Ahmad Bradshaw’s two broken feet proved to drag his performance down after a fantastic start. The Giants couldn’t muster an effective running game, which forced the passing game to be perfect week in and week out, which in turn led to short drives, thereby further exposing the defensive woes.
Brown is back this year with history potentially on the line. No running back has ever come back effectively from a ruptured Achilles tendon. Andre Brown may hope that this is a breakable curse, but the Giants are depending on it.
Both Jacobs and Bradshaw are injuries waiting to happen. This increases the value of the Giants third running back. With D.J. Ware seemingly unable to improve upon his legendary pre-season performances, Andre Brown could be seeing significant regular season action sooner than we all believe.
He has supposedly been cutting well in camp, but it will be interesting to watch how he performs in his first ever game action. His recovery could prove to be much more important to the Giants success than we initially believed at the start of camp.
4. Oh right, how about that defense?
After last year it's hard to believe there's three aspects of the team that were addressed before the defense. Last year, the defense was hyped up all off-season after the Giants front office spent the off-season replenishing the defense with speed and youth.
In the pre-season, the unit looked surprisingly pedestrian. In game two against Chicago, Matt Forte gashed through the Giants run defense and Cutler had his way with the secondary. Yet instead of realizing this was foreshadowing failure, many dismissed the performance as a fluke.
While it's important not to over-react if the defense struggles again this pre-season, a strong defensive performance in August could instill confidence into the group going into the season.
5. The backup offensive line has to step up
Besides creating depth for an aging starting offensive line, what significance does the backup linemen's performance really have?
Last pre-season we saw first hand how a porous offensive line can hinder a team. The young receiving group that needed an opportunity to prove what they can do never got that chance because either David Carr or Jim Sorgi had very little time to get rid of the ball.
Consequently, we never got to see Barden's ability to stretch the field as he had been doing in Albany. Before he could even turn around and see whether or not the ball was thrown his away, the quarterback had likely been hit.
It was disappointing. The quarterbacks looked nervous, and the skill players never got to display their skills. If the backup unit steps up this year, then maybe we will get a chance to see young players step up in ways we would never see if the line continues to be overmatched by defensive backups.
Prediction: Giants edge out the Jets 23-22 as the Jets fail to convert a two-point conversion attempt with one minute left.
One last note: Isn't it nice to read a pre-season game preview without Eli Manning being the focal point of what to watch for? It's certainly a privilege to have a proven starting quarterback nowadays.
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