The New York Giants kick off a three-game span over the next 11 days starting with a Monday night, nationally televised affair live from Cleveland.
The construction of the preseason schedule will prove to be a good litmus test for the team for November, when the Giants will have to play three games over a span of 12 days, games that include a Sunday road game at San Francisco followed by a Sunday road game at home against Kansas City and then a Thanksgiving night game at Washington.
— NY Giants Radio (@NYGRadio) August 20, 2017
“This is a schedule we all dreamed of,” said head coach Ben McAdoo. “We have five weeks where we really have a similar-type schedule, everything else is kind of a little bit different. We’re going to embrace that. It’s a great opportunity for us and we’re excited to play football on big stages.”
McAdoo and his staff spent the offseason carefully considering every angle regarding situations such as multiple games crammed into two weeks or less, covering everything from travel times, to nutrition to rest times.
Win or lose in Cleveland—remember the purpose of the game is to evaluate personnel—McAdoo should at least get a good idea if the plan he has in place for when it does count needs to be adjusted.
- WR Dwayne Harris (upper body) — Will not play per head coach Ben McAdoo
- WR Darius Powe (hamstring) — Will not play per head coach Ben McAdoo
- LB Keenan Robinson (concussion) — Will not play due to being in the league’s protocol
- LB Mark Herzlich (stinger) — Will not play (has been unable to practice)
- LB J.T. Thomas (knee) — Will not play (has been unable to practice)
- CB Eli Apple (ankle) — Questionable per head coach Ben McAdoo
- S Duke Ihenacho (hamstring) — Questionable
- S Ryan Murphy (lower body) — Will not play (has been unable to practice)
Third-string offensive tackle Michael Bowie is not making the trip with the team after the news about a warrant being out for his arrest related to a domestic violence charge.
B.J. Goodson, the starting middle linebacker, will likely continue to receive snaps in the nickel package that were otherwise designated for Keenan Robinson.
“We have had some linebackers who have been nicked up, so it’s been a great opportunity for B.J. to get out there and play base and sub,” said McAdoo.
Youngsters Curtis Grant and Calvin Munson are also likely going to get a boost in their playing reps due to the injuries at the position.
“I think both of those guys are doing a good job,” said defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
“I’ll tell you this about Calvin, really impressed with the command he has in the huddle for a rookie free agent just walking in. I always look at those guys, I mentioned this about Darian Thompson last year when we got to the Dallas game, I saw the way he reacted on game day. Calvin did the same thing in this past preseason game. It was just good to see him kind of take over.
“Curtis is doing a lot for us. He’s played all three positions, he plays the Mike, the Sam, and the Will. He was out in the sub defense. So, from his standpoint, he’s learning a lot, but he’s embracing it and knows that the best thing in his position is to be a jack-of-all-trades. ”
If Apple doesn’t play, Michael Hunter will likely draw the start.
“He is a young player that is making gains,” McAdoo said of Hunter.
Lastly with Harris, the team’s punt and kickoff returner sidelined, receiver Travis Rudolph might be called upon to handle those duties. Rudolph has quietly had himself an impressive summer camp, and he could end up taking another step toward solidifying a roster spot if he fares well as a returner.
What to Watch on Offense
With McAdoo planning to play the starter s into the second quarter, this will be our first compete look at the revamped offense, which last week was missing starting quarterback Eli Manning and No. 1 receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
Last week, the Giants only mustered 242 total yards on offense, hardly juggernaut numbers. While McAdoo isn’t likely to unveil the meat in his playbook on national television, we’ll at least start to get a better idea of how well the offense in general is jelling.
Along those lines, the Giants running game will look to bounce back from a “meh” performance. New York ran for 73 yards on 23 carries, 3.2 yards per carry average. I t will be interesting to see if McAdoo sticks with Paul Perkins for the bulk of the carries, or if they are split between Perkins and Orleans Darkwa.
Last but certainly not least is the starting offensive line, a unit that in limited snaps last week had some struggles in pass protection. This week, the Giants will be facing a 4-3 defense with a pair of very good defensive ends, Myles Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, and Emmanuel Ogbah.
It’s only preseason, but Ereck Flowers held up in limited work in pass protection last week pic.twitter.com/saCG0jLybe
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) August 18, 2017
We keep hearing from the coaches about how offensive tackles Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart have improved, and we see small hints of that being true, but we need to see it on a consistent basis.
Not to be forgotten, the interior of the Giants line needs to do a better job as well. Last week, the interior–Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg and John Jerry–gave up a quarterback pressure that led to a sack. That can’t continue to happen.
What to Watch on Defense
Jay Bromley and rookie Dalvin Tomlinson are locked in an intense battle for the starting 3-technique spot next to Damon Harris.
Bromley has been the starter, but what was interesting is that when asked to talk about the defensive tackles, Spagnuolo went right to the rookie first.
“I think Dalvin made a big jump from last week to this week. He’s played a little bit more violent, I think he’s getting a little more comfortable with the guys he’s playing with. I’m really encouraged by him,” Spagnuolo said.
And what about Bromley, who this year is motivated more than ever to hang onto the job?
“Jay has been a steady Eddie. He knows the defense. We’ve always talked about him working on his footwork and he’s been doing that.”
The bigger story on defense will be the linebackers. The Giants are currently a bit thin at this spot thanks to Mark Herzlich, J.T. Thomas and Keenan Robinson all suffering from various ailments.
That likely means the onus will be on young players like Calvin Munson and Curtis Grant, both of whom have been turning heads this summer.
“I think both of those guys are doing a good job,” Spagnuolo said. “I’ll tell you this about Calvin, really impressed with the command he has in the huddle for a rookie free agent just walking in.
“I mentioned this about Darian Thompson last year when we got to the Dallas game, I saw the way he reacted on game day. Calvin did the same thing in this past preseason game. It was just good to see him kind of take over.
“Curtis is doing a lot for us. He’s played all three positions, he plays the Mike, the Sam, and the Will. He was out in the sub defense. So, from his standpoint, he’s learning a lot, but he’s embracing it and knows that the best thing in his position is to be a jack of all trades.”
Last but not least, Olivier Vernon will be squaring off against Browns all-Pro (and Giants fans dream left tackle) Joe Thomas. Vernon spent part of the offseason training in Krav Maga and picked up a few tips from Von Miller’s pass rush summit so it will be interesting to see if he changes anything up in how he fights off the blocks of premier left tackles such as Thomas who will be across from him this season.
What to Watch on Special Teams
Based on production in the games and in practices, the Giants kicking competition between Aldrick Rosas and Mike Nugent appears to be neck and neck.
The deciding factor here could be kickoffs, which was a weak spot for the Giants last year. Currently, Nugent leads Rosas 66.7 to 66.5 in average kickoff distance, but Rosas was able to boot one of his two kickoff attempts into the end zone last week for a touchback.
The other thing to watch on special teams is an idea that I first kicked around (no pun intended) weeks ago but then backed away from: The possibility of return specialist Dwayne Harris not being a part of the 2017 team.
This week, Harris (upper body soreness) will not play, which leaves the door open for undrafted rookie free agent Travis Rudolph to potentially solidify his chances for a roster spot.
Last week, Rudolph led the Giants with three kickoff returns for 66 yards (22.0 average) and a long of 31 yards, while adding two punt returns for five yards behind a punt return team that left a lot to be desired.
Rudolph is currently tied for 11th in the league for most kickoff return yards. If he can keep that up, perhaps the team will part with Harris and for with the rookie instead.