Cleveland 10 – Giants 6: Hits, Misses & Musings

It’s only the preseason. It’s only the preseason. It’s only the preseason.

That’s likely to be the mantra we hear from the Giants players and coaches this coming week, and they’re correct; it is only the preseason. However, there are certain leaps one looks for in a football team, progress milestones, if you will. And after being at this now for almost a month, this Giants team—more specifically the offense—isn’t showing enough of the milestones.

Let’s start with the obvious: ball security. It’s simple. Throw the ball and catch it. Take the handoff and hold on to it. Throw the ball to the right colored jersey.

Head coach Ben McAdoo devotes a period of every practice which is called “The Duke.” That period is designed to put the players through game-simulated challenges such as having the ball poked out from their grasp, and hands waving when one’s trying to make a catch.

The objective is simple: protect the Duke.

So what happened against Cleveland? Quarterback Geno Smith threw a red zone interception. Receiver Sterling Shepard had a dropped pass and a lost fumble. Running back Wayne Gallman also lost a fumble.

Gift giving is a wonderful thing around the holidays. In football, however, it has no place.

Let’s move on to the bigger picture here, which is the offense’s inability to score touchdowns regardless of what string is out there, a problem this group had last year in the preseason as well.

There is the dismal showing on third down, this team having converted just eight of 29 third-down attempts (27.6%). That’s not going to get it done, folks.

There is the lost battle for time of possession—29:22 to 30:39 for the preseason, but in the game against the Browns, a 25:00 to 35:00 split in favor of the Browns.

The running game? Despite the upgrades made to add run-blocking tight end Rhett Ellison, despite the claims that the offensive line would be better after having a year together under their belts, and despite jettisoning Rashad Jennings to promote Paul Perkins, the Giants have averaged 69 yards on the ground per game.

And speaking of the offensive line, we’ve heard from just about every starting offensive lineman, as well as McAdoo and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan about how there has been improvement. Maybe that improvement has come in the technique of each man, but the bottom line is that these guys are still not winning their one-on-one battles with any consistency.

We’re likely going to hear this coming week when the players and coaches take to the podium that there’s still a lot of time left. And we’re probably going to cringe if just a bit because while you can’t rush progress, there has to be a better attempt to nudge it along so that come opening day, you can hit the ground running.

Hits

Olivier Vernon/Jason Pierre-Paul: This dynamic duo, reunited for the first time on a playing field since Week 12 of last year, is already in midseason form. They combined for three tackles, split a sack and teamed up to where Vernon tipped a pass right to Pierre-Paul, who made the acrobatic catch. Not to be outdone, Vernon, who usually runs wind sprints in between his practice reps, showed breathtaking hustle when he chased down tight end David Njoku in coverage—a play in which he came all the way across the field no less—swatting the ball away.

Evan Engram: Three receptions (out of four pass targets) for 32 yards, including a gorgeous 21-yard reception up the seam highlighted this dynamic rookie’s night. His blocking is still a bit rough around the edges, but so far Engram has done very little to quell the excitement over his selection.

Brett Jones:  If you’re looking for the best offensive lineman of the night and the most improved, look no further than this backup guard/center.  Jones manned the trenches at center following starter Weston Richburg’s departure, and came up big on an open field block in which he flattened a Browns’ defensive back on a screen pass. His run blocking wasn’t quite as sharp, but it was still much improved over last week’s effort.

Misses 

Eli Manning: He wasn’t horrible—and yes, you have to allow for the pass blocking—but Manning’s first preseason action wasn’t anywhere close to being crisp. He overthrew Brandon Marshall who beat a jam at the line of scrimmage to get open.  He then led Odell Beckham Jr. on the pass play that resulted in the receiver’s injury, the ball being thrown too high; and he led Sterling Shepard into a big hit on a crossing pattern. The cherry on the cake was the near interception on a pass intended for tight end Even Engram. Bottom line: not a sharp outing for the veteran quarterback.

Sterling Shepard: This was his first preseason action, so I suppose one has to grade with a curve, but Shepard looked very rusty. He dropped a pass and lost a fumble on two key plays. These errors just can’t be happening at this point in his career, not if this offense is to take off.

Adam Bisnowaty: Another young player who had a rough night, this rookie was beaten on a first down passing play when he lost his edge and gave up a big hit on his quarterback.

After that, he used the wrong technique on a running play that subsequently lost yardage.  Bisnowaty was then badly beaten to the inside on another pass rush.

To his credit, Bisnowaty hung in there, but of the two games he has put on tape so far, last week’s effort was better.

Hisses

This is a combination of Hits and Misses.

Geno Smith: Smith made numerous good throws and smart plays, but his two blips were doozies.

He ran himself into a sack while trying to an extend a play that wasn’t to be extended. He then made a horrible decision in the red zone that resulted in an interception and yet another drive killer for an offense that can’t seem to buy a touchdown this preseason.

Whether this was by design or otherwise, Smith didn’t attempt any deep passes down the field. He did a nice job of reading blitzes and getting rid of the ball quickly, and used his fine agility to roll out of harm’s way.

The question about Smith is can be trusted in tight spots?

So far in two weeks, the answer is bordering on no.

Musings 

I’ve watched the hit on Odell Beckham Jr. several times and the more I look at it, the more I think the blame is being misplaced.

I think the problem with that entire play was that quarterback Eli Manning threw the ball too high, causing Beckham to have to leave his feet. Now in comes the defender, who starts aiming for what he believes is the midsection of the receiver’s body, but because Beckham had to leap, now his legs end up in the cross target.

Manning, in fact, had a couple other throws where he left his receivers vulnerable.

You can make the argument that this was Manning’s first preseason action of the year, but my counter argument to that is that Manning has been around the block a few times.

He needs to be sharper with his throws and he needs to stop leading guys to where they’re put in vulnerable positions. Is this a result of the pass protection causing him to be squeamish? Maybe yes, maybe no, but if that’s the case, then why not try escaping the pressure to a safe spot and then setting up for a throw?

Now with all that said, what concerns me about the Beckham injury was his response when asked if he’d be good to go for Dallas in Week 1.

“I don’t know, man,” he said. “I am pretty concerned, but I think I will be alright. (It) feels like a sprained ankle. I don’t know. Rolled ankle. Have you ever hurt your ankle? That is kind of what it feels like. I will be alright.”

I didn’t hear his vocal tone which would have provided more clarity, but having covered athletes for over 20 years, when they express any shred of doubt about their status, that’s never a good thing. Most of them will downplay an injury in a defiant tone of sorts.

Again, I didn’t hear Beckham, but you’d think if there truly wasn’t anything to be worried about, he’d brush the injury off as he did last year when he had a hand ailment that didn’t draw a lot of attention but which was there for several games.


The more I watch the offense, the less I’m convinced the Giants will carry a pure fullback. Snap counts aside, Rhett Ellison—yes, I’m aware of some early game whiffs–should be just fine in performing the lead blocking duties.

I look at these roster numbers and at the injury situation, and then I look at the play of the fullbacks.

Smith has been good, but I don’t recall him yet blasting someone out of the hole with the power of a classic fullback.

I just don’t see how they can justify keeping a pure fullback on the team. Maybe on the practice squad, yes. But on the 53-man roster? I really doubt it happens.

Yes, Smith has been on the first team for special teams, I get that. And not to take away from what he’s done—this week he played nine snaps on special teams–, but how much of that is a result of the injuries that have knocked others out of action such as Dwayne Harris, Mark Herzlich, Keenan Robison, etc.?


Not a day seems to go by when my Twitter timeline isn’t filled with people screaming about Ereck Flowers.

I get the concern, especially after his first two years in which he often didn’t look like he cared, but with that said, any improvement Flowers shows this year—and there have been signs—is better than nothing.

I think people need to taper their expectations—Flowers isn’t going to magically go from being sub part to All-pro overnight. But if he shows just enough improvement to pass the eyeball test, that is a step it the right direction.

Worth noting, by the way, is that last night against Cleveland, Flowers was left by his lonesome to handle rookie Myles Garrett. Other than three early game chokeholds I say (that weren’t called, by the way), Flowers got better as the game went on.

I think the bigger concern with the offensive line is in the interior, specifically at right guard. Was anyone else surprised that John Jerry, a veteran, couldn’t handle a simple stunt on the Giants’ first drive, the ensuring whiff being the lone sack against Eli Manning?

To be fair, Jerry did pick up his game after that gaffe, but he remains very much a reason why the Giants can’t seem to run the ball with any consistency.

The Final Word

If practice is supposed to make perfect, then you have to wonder about the part of practice McAdoo devotes to ball security and how it’s run.

Now understand that a coach can only do so much under the terms of the CBA, but to my eyes at least, when you take foam pad and try to knock a ball out of a guy’s hands rather than having actual human hands, which are more animated and more forceful, trying to poke the pigskin free, maybe that’s just something that needs to be adjusted moving forward.