New York Giants fans have grown accustomed to watching their team struggle early in the preseason. This year, the team set out to change the trend of slow starts. Unfortunately, they did not accomplish their goal.
The Giants offense did not look crisp in the preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns last week. In two drives, the first-team offense got four first downs and scored three points. The players most responsible for those points being put on the scoreboard was Browns rookie cornerback Denzel Ward, who committed a taunting penalty after breaking up a pass on a third down. The penalty moved the Giants into field goal range.
The backups and third-stringers did not fare much better. The backups scored just one touchdown, and that touchdown was set up when long snapper Zak DeOssie recovered a fumble deep in Browns territory. New head coach Pat Shurmur, new offensive coordinator Mike Shula, and the Giants players need to establish an identity on offense.
Let’s start with the quarterbacks. Eli Manning looked okay in limited action. He missed a throw to Rhett Ellison on the first drive on a pass over the middle, but he made some good throws on other plays. The fifteen-year veteran did not take any shots downfield, which made sense because he did not have star wideout Odell Beckham Jr. at his disposal in this game.
Backup Davis Webb does not look like he has any chance of being Manning’s successor. Webb consistently threw passes that were high and uncatchable. Right before halftime, Webb strung together a few completions. However, he made a huge mistake on the final play of the half. His pass should have led the receiver out of bounds, but instead the pass led the receiver right into the arms of a waiting Browns defender. The Giants were out of timeouts, and the half ended.
The running backs played better than the quarterbacks. Saquon Barkley began the game with an electrifying 39-yard run. Jonathan Stewart caught a pass. Jalen Simmons ran for 38 yards and scored the Giants’ only touchdown. Robert Martin had several good runs in the fourth quarter.
The offensive line play was inconsistent for the Giants. The starters were okay, but could have played better. Barkley made something out of nothing on his long run, and the starting line did not open up any big holes for the running backs. Center Jon Halapio and Stewart had a miscommunication that led to Manning being sacked on a third down. Those types of plays cannot happen if the Giants want to improve on their win total from last season.
The second- and third-string offensive linemen did a great job of opening up running lanes for the running backs. The backups also did a decent job in pass protection, as the Browns managed to record just one more sack after Manning left the game.
It was tough to evaluate the running backs and tight ends because of all of the inaccurate passes thrown by Webb. Hunter Sharp got to start in place of Beckham. He made two catches on four targets and had an impressive kickoff return. Sterling Shepard made a catch at the sticks for a first down. The tight ends did not make an impact in the passing game.
Manning and the Giants offense usually perform poorly in the preseason opener. Last year, Manning threw several high passes in his first preseason appearance, one of which allowed Beckham to be hit low. That hit sidelined Beckham for a month. Manning only has two touchdown passes in his past twelve preseason openers.
In 2014, it took Manning a while to get used to Ben McAdoo’s offense. He did not find his rhythm in that offense until the third game of the regular season. Manning had an inconsistent 2014 season, but proved to be mostly competent and occasionally excellent at running McAdoo’s offense. At the end of the year, he looked like a much better quarterback than he did when the year began.
Overall, the Giants offense was a step slow in Week 1 of the preseason. The unit will need to improve each week if it wants to be prepared to face a stout Jaguars defense in Week 1 of the regular season. That task just became more difficult because Barkley will miss some time while recovering from a mild hamstring strain. Everyone on the entire offense will need to step up in Barkley’s absence.
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