MetLife Bowl Preview: New York Jets at New York Giants

With all due respect to the fine folks at MetLife, the annual Met Life Bowl has become so much more about winning a trophy not named for the late, great Vince Lombardi.

This game, which traditionally falls as the third one on both team’s schedules, is the final preseason dress rehearsal, the game in which coaches get a chance to really envision what the first cut of the 53-man roster will look like, and a last chance to try some of the new wrinkles installed in practice.

The Giants find themselves in a situation similar to this time last year: their defense is looking more lethal than ever because their offense, even with all the upgrades made to the skill positions, can’t find the end zone.

That obviously needs to change if the Giants are to win the division this year. That’s also why this game is so important: If the current personnel that head coach Ben McAdoo has on his starting offense isn’t getting the job done (looking at you, offensive line), then it’s time to consider changes.

“I think the first group needs to play together and you need to be able to push the first group as well, so there is a balance there,” McAdoo said when asked about potentially shaking up the offensive line.

“But guys have earned opportunities to go in there and compete and we need to give them those opportunities.”

In other words, it sounds as though McAdoo doesn’t want to change what he has on the offensive line—there is something to be said about continuity and communication, after all, and despite what any coach or player says, when you change a person on the offensive line, here is bound to be a slight dip somewhere in the cohesiveness.

Injury Report

The following players are dealing with injuries. McAdoo has not declared anyone out of Saturday’s game, but it’s virtually certain that some of these players will not play (we’ll update you before the game Saturday).

  • WR Dwayne Harris (upper body)
  • LB Keenan Robinson (concussion)
  • LB Mark Herzlich (stinger)
  • WR Tavarres King (ankle)
  • LB J.T. Thomas (knee)
  • WR Odell Beckham Jr. (ankle)
  • WR Brandon Marshall (shoulder)
  • Michael Hunter (concussion)

What to Watch on Offense 

Eli Manning and company are expected to play into the third quarter, but for an offense that has yet to score a touchdown, it’s going to be, shall we say, an interesting evening.

This is an offense that has picked up where it left off last year in terms of production and mistakes. If you remember, the same thing happened last summer, the members of the team and the coach promising that a breakout was coming, but never did.

It would be nice if this year that breakout happened this weekend just to give this team a little head of steam going into the regular season.

Let’s talk now about the units to watch. First up is the offensive line. Members of the unit keep claiming they’re making progress, but the result have pretty much spoken for themselves this preseason, namely 16.2 percent of the rushing attempts going for zero or negative yards.

Before anyone hopes on the timeline to scream, “Ereck Flowers!” he hasn’t been the problem. The run-blocking by the interior of the line has left a lot to be desired. There is no push and no hole blasting.

Combine that with the fact that as of yet, the Giants have yet to show they have a running back with the quick feet to bounce outside, and it’s no wonder the running game has gotten out of the gate so slowly.

There are a couple of options here. The first is for McAdoo to swap John Jerry, who has struggled mightily in run blocking this summer, out for Brett Jones.

But even that’s not a sure-fire fix. For one, the Giants are facing another 3-4 base defense, an alignment that has given them trouble. And despite the Jets ranking 19th in the league against the run, they have a very good run defense.

Here’s the other thing that McAdoo will need to figure out: Does the team keep a pure blocking fullback? The coaches would have us think that a tight end and fullback are interchangeable, but that isn’t necessarily the case.

A fullback is probably a better fit for a run-blocking game where the interior struggles. The question, though, is do the Giants have a fullback capable of blasting a defender out of the hole? Shane Smith right now appears to be the front-runner for the job, but he’s not yet a lock for the roster.

We also need to discuss the receivers. The Giants are probably going to be without Brandon Marshall, Tavarres King, Odell Beckham Jr. and Dwayne Harris in this game. That means the “starting receivers will likely consist of Sterling Shepard in the slot, Roger Lewis and Travis Rudolph.

It’s a great opportunity for guys like Lewis and Rudolph to show they belong on an NFL roster, but it probably would have been preferable for Manning to get in his dress rehearsal with his top receivers.

Regarding the quarterback spot, call it a hunch, but after getting extensive action last week against the Browns, I have a feeling Geno Smith will barely see the field this weekend. If McAdoo is still on the fence about his backup quarterback, I would guess that Josh Johnson will relieve Manning after his turn is over.

What to Watch on Defense 

The big storyline on defense this week will be in the defensive backfield, where the Giants are woefully short at cornerback behind starters Eli Apple and Janoris Jenkins and slot man Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Michael Hunter (concussion) is unlikely to play in this game. Hunter had been well on his way to locking up that fourth cornerback spot before suffering a concussion against Cleveland Monday night.

Meanwhile Donte Deayon should be able to nail down his roster spot this week, but the Giants cannot afford any more injuries at this position, especially given the uncertainty regarding Valentino Blake’s status.

Meanwhile up front, the Jets offensive line has had some struggles this summer, allowing sacks, not opening holes and just making life miserable for whatever quarterback is lining up behind them.

Part of the problem for the Jets has been the rotation of different guys as head coach Todd Bowles tries to find the right combination. While he continues to figure that out, the Giants front four—ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon, and tackles Damon Harrison and ay Bromley—could be in for a big and productive evening.

What to Watch on Special Teams

The kicking battle remains neck-and-neck, though one gets the feeling that Aldrick Rosas might have a slight edge in this battle. With the way the Giants’ offense has gone, it’s possible each of Rosas and one-time Jets kicker Mike Nugent will get plenty of opportunities.

But scoring has never really been the issue with the kicking game; kickoffs have. Currently, the Giants are ranked third in the preseason in kickoffs. If the offense can do some scoring and thus give the coaching staff a better idea about what they have in terms of kickoff potential, maybe then this battle can get wrapped up.

The other thing to watch, as was the case last week, is kickoff and punt returns. Dwayne Harris continues to be sidelined with upper body soreness.

His job is there for the taking. Can one of these younger players step up and not only deliver the goods as a return specialist, but more importantly as a coverage guy, which is where Harris last year earned his stripes?

If so, the Giants might be able to move on from Harris, who’s as tough as they come, but whose injuries rob him of that breath-taking talent he brings to special teams.

The Final Word

Although this game doesn’t count in the final standings, don’t let the players fool you when they say this is just another game.

The Jets usually bring their all to games against the Giants. In fact, over the years there have been many major story lines to emerge from these games, such as the breakout of former receiver Victor Cruz, the injury suffered by Eli Manning, and others.

The intensity is sure to be cranked up for this one, but let’s hope that there are no more major injuries, especially on already thin areas such as receiver and defensive back.