It’s just one game.
A preseason game, nonetheless. There are still three games left for the first team to tune up. But it’s easy to overreact when you see a team struggle while playing for the first time in eight months. So let’s try not to read too much into the Giants’ hardships in a 23-10 loss to the Bengals on Friday.
Let’s take a look the highs (there were some!) and lows of this first preseason game, and see what the Giants need to address before they return to MetLife Stadium to host the Jaguars on Saturday.
Failure to Launch
Besides an impressive kick return from undrafted rookie Akeem Hunt, the Giants probably couldn’t have had a worse start to this game. The offense couldn’t get anything going during a three-and-out first drive. The Bengals followed that up by skewering the Giants’ first-team defense en route to a five-play touchdown drive. The Giants followed with another three-and-out, and then Josh Brown missed a 53-yard field goal attempt.
Surprisingly, most of the Giants’ first-teamers played the entire first quarter. For what it’s worth, the defense showed improvement throughout the quarter. But despite the Bengals pulling most of their starters after a couple drives, the Giants’ first-team offense just couldn’t get anything going.
Eli Manning completed 4-of-8 passes for just 22 yards, with Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle held without a reception. Rashad Jennings was the only skill position player to shine, as he managed 14 yards on just two carries. Meanwhile, Shane Vereen (two carries for four yards) and Andre Williams (two carries for negative two yards) struggled.
The Giants makeshift offensive line was, in a word, horrid. They opened up very few holes in the running game. Manning, under constant pressure, had to get the ball out of his hands immediately, as the line failed to protect him.
First-round rookie left tackle Ereck Flowers certainly looked like a work in progress. He had difficulty containing Bengals left end Carlos Dunlap, who blew up Jennings on a run for a loss of five yards. He was also flagged for a personal foul. Penalties were a big problem for him at Miami.
It’s a full-team effort through and through, but the offensive line stood out as needing the most improvement. Perhaps a home date with the Jaguars on Saturday will help.
Back in the spring, the Giants drafted two safeties to help address their egregiously thin safety corps. Now they’re both on the shelf.
Second-round rookie Landon Collins suffered an MCL sprain in Friday’s loss. While coach Tom Coughlin said Collins will miss “at least” one week, MCL sprains tend to be 2-4 week injuries. If that timeline applies to the Alabama product, his preseason could be over. In a worst-case scenario, Collins could be questionable for Week 1. The Giants will hope for a speedy recovery, as Collins was set to start at one of the safety positions.
A more crushing blow came in the form of Mykkele Thompson’s second quarter injury. He had to be carted off the field, and then received the unfortunate diagnosis of a torn Achilles. His rookie season is over before it even started.
Thompson was in contention to start alongside Collins, but will have to hold off on those dreams until next year.
With Nat Berhe also out of action, the Giants will turn to Jeromy Miles, Cooper Taylor, Bennett Jackson and newly added Brandon Meriweather to pick up the slack.
Game Balls & the Shame Wall
Offensive Game Ball: Running back Orleans Darkwa
Handing out game awards during Week 1 of the preseason is never an easy task, and it’s not always meaningful, since no one plays a full 60 minutes. But on a night where the Giants offense had a hard time getting things going, Darkwa looked impressive running with the backups.
The second-year undrafted free agent racked up 52 yards on nine carries (5.8 YPC), including a long of 20 yards. He scored the lone New York touchdown, converting a one-yard score in the second quarter.
Jennings, Vereen and Williams are locked in as the top three running backs, so Darkwa will have to hope the Giants opt to break camp with four runners. If they do, Darkwa should be the favorite for the fourth spot, as of right now.
Defensive Game Balls: Defensive end Kerry Wynn & defensive back Bennett Jackson
Again, no one played a full game so I’m copping out and picking two guys.
As a fairly obscure rookie out of Richmond, Wynn burst onto the scene last year, and seems poised to be a major part of the Giants’ defensive line rotation in his sophomore season. He received a lot of playing time against Cincinnati, collecting a team-high six tackles. He even collaborated with former college teammate Cooper Taylor on a third quarter sack of Bengals quarterback Josh Johnson. Wynn is on the rise.
Jackson could be a key to the Giants defense this year. With Berhe and Collins sidelined and Thompson out for the year, the Giants safety depth is hurting in a major way. Jackson, a converted cornerback, managed six tackles on the evening while filling in for the injured safeties. The Notre Dame product has a legitimate shot to start Week 1.
Shame Wall: Left tackle Ereck Flowers
The entire offensive line is deserving of a spot on the Wall, but Flowers stood out as the most concerning. Yes, he’s raw and most certainly a project, but the Giants’ regular season foes won’t take mercy on him. Unfortunately, and kind of unfairly, he’s being thrown into the fire quicker than most expected, tasked with protecting Manning’s blind side until Will Beatty returns. He needs to improve this preseason and cut down on the mental mistakes if he hopes to have any success as the starting left tackle to open the season.
Big Blue Bits
Just a few brief notes and observations from Friday’s letdown.
– I really like former Purdue running back Akeem Hunt. His 70-yard return in the first quarter was a thing of beauty. Unfortunately for him, the Giants seem set at both kick and punt returner, as Dwayne Harris should hold down both of those spots. Hunt’s best/only roster hope would be the Giants choose to carry four running backs, and Hunt outplays Darkwa over the next three games. For what it’s worth, Hunt received three carries and managed 18 yards (6.0 YPC).
– Those hoping wide receiver Corey Washington could carry over his electrifying preseason performances from 2014 were probably disappointed. Last year’s preseason MVP made just one catch for eight yards on four targets against Cincinnati.
– Quarterback Ryan Nassib just doesn’t do it for me. He’s never blown me away to begin with, and against Cincinnati’s B-team, Nassib completed just eight of 18 passes for 79 yards. I recall the broadcasters discussing the possibility of Nassib becoming the heir to Manning’s throne. Huh? I think those hopes fading, at best.
– Cornerback Trevin Wade took advantage of all the injuries in the secondary, leading the defense with 42 snaps. The former Saint collected two tackles and three passes defended, including a Keith Wenning interception that he returned for 61 yards. He still has work to do to break camp with Big Blue, but made a nice first impression.
– Could we have an actual battle for the punting job on our hands? I don’t think so, but incumbent Steve Weatherford and journeyman Robert Malone each received four punts on Friday. Especially strange considering Weatherford handled all punting duties in each of the Giants’ five preseason games last year. While Malone’s 46.3 yards per punt just edged out Weatherford’s 45.5, I think it’ll take a lot more for Malone to squeeze Weatherford off the roster.