NY Giants: What We've Learned Through Week 4 of the Preseason
The New York Giants might have a perfect preseason record through four games, but overall, they haven’t come close to looking like a team that’s ready to make some noise in the NFC East.
Neither the offense nor defense is ranked in the top 10 league-wide. The offense is currently sitting 20th in the league, while the defense is 11th.
The injuries are starting to pile up to where those difficult decisions that head coach Tom Coughlin was facing at the start of camp just doubled—no, make that tripled.
Of course, preseason doesn’t mean anything once the curtain rises on the new NFL campaign.
However, we’ve probably seen enough in terms of trends to suggest that things might be bumpy for Coughlin’s 11th season at the helm. Patience is going to be key for Giants fans this year.
Let’s look at where things are after four preseason games.
The Tight End Picture Is Still Unsettled
If the Giants are looking for their tight ends to be more involved in the passing game, they might just have to look a little harder.
Last week, only one pass was thrown to a tight end, that being to Daniel Fells. That ball fell incomplete, which meant that Giants tight ends made zero receptions.
Thus far for the preseason, the tight ends have caught just nine of the 93 pass completions (14.2 percent) thrown by the Giants quarterbacks for 126 of the 887 yards.
Those aren’t exactly impressive numbers for a unit that was expected to have such a big role in the new offense.
It also screams volumes that fullback Henry Hynoski told reporters that he’s been given some of the plays of the H-back to execute this year—plays that should have otherwise gone to the tight ends if one had actually proved to be capable of filling the role with any consistency.
From a blocking perspective, the two most consistent in this regard have been Fells, who has been slowed by a bruised knee, and Kellen Davis.
Fells has a 2.5 run-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), while Davis has a 0.2.
Don’t be surprised if the Giants go after a tight end on the waiver wire; despite the hope and optimism for both Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell, neither has really performed consistently.
The Offensive Line Is Still a Mess
When a team is still tinkering with its starting offensive line going into late August, that’s usually not a good sign.
Yet that’s what the Giants were doing as late as last week, trying different combinations at every position except center, which has been manned from the start by J.D. Walton.
On the surface, the goal of trying out so many different combinations could be looked at as nothing more than contingency planning now while the coaches have the time to experiment.
However, it’s probably more of a sign that the coaches are still not satisfied with how their offensive line looks, and that is alarming if true.
There’s evidence to suggest the coaches are still not being satisfied. According to Pro Football Focus’ signature stats, the Giants offensive line has given up 28 pressures this preseason, tying for eighth most in the NFL (with Cleveland).
Looking at things more closely, quarterback Eli Manning is 19-of-37. Per PFF, Manning has been under pressure on 17 of his dropbacks, completing just seven (46.7 percent).
The sad thing for the Giants is that things might just get worse before they start to get better. Right tackle Justin Pugh is the only one of the projected five starters with a positive overall grade from PFF (1.7).
Also, the injury to left guard Geoff Schwartz, which head coach Tom Coughlin told reporters could keep the veteran guard out for a while, now necessitates the team putting promising but inexperienced rookie Weston Richburg in at the left side. Meanwhile, Brandon Mosley, another relatively inexperienced guard, tries to hold off John Jerry for the right guard spot.
Circling back to tackle, while left tackle Will Beatty has played OK in limited snaps, he’s still not anywhere close to being the player he was in 2012, and might not be, depending on how he continues to recover from that leg injury.
Don’t be surprised if the Giants are very active on the waiver wire in the coming week with an eye on adding to the offensive line.
Ryan Nassib Is a Legitimate Backup Quarterback
When evaluating player performance in preseason, it’s always important to take into consideration his competition.
With that said, if the player in question is dominating, that’s usually a strong sign that a team has something legitimate in him.
That’s currently where the Giants are with Ryan Nassib, who likely sewed up the backup quarterback job with his three-touchdown performance against the Jets.
"One thing that was very impressive was that he didn’t have a very good game two weeks ago, and he came back last week and this week and played very well," head coach Tom Coughlin said. "He ran the offense well. He stuck the ball in there down the field well. He didn’t run the ball today; he didn’t come out of there running it, but he directed the running game into the right spots, and that was a good thing as well."
Nassib has not only been the best quarterback on the Giants this summer, but he’s also second in the league in passing yards with 481, the league leader in touchdowns with five and tied for second in the league (with E.J. Manuel of Buffalo) for most passes completed of 20 or more yards (seven).
The biggest takeaway with Nassib’s performance is that his decision-making is much improved since the start of camp. He’s also been making some picture-perfect throws, and his mobility has bailed him out of tight situations.
Is Nassib ready to be a starting quarterback in the NFL? Probably not. However, if something were to happen to Eli Manning, Giants fans would feel a lot better about the backup situation this year.
Damontre Moore Is Turning into a Scary Good Player
Second-year defensive end Damontre Moore is healthy, focused and having a productive preseason.
While Moore has primarily been working against the twos in games and in practice, he’s been dominating his level of competition more often than not. That sight has the coaches and his teammates very excited about this still young 21-year-old, who was a third-round draft pick last year.
“He’s got tremendous talent,” defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said. “His speed and his effectiveness in the pass rush game are there. He’s one of those guys. He’s got some maturing to do, but I think the sky is the limit.”
Moore, who last year was slowed down by a preseason shoulder injury that required offseason surgery, is fully healthy and has been wreaking havoc on opponents.
Moore, who has 4.0 sacks this preseason, is currently tied for the NFL league in sacks with Green Bay linebacker Jay Elliott. Moore’s 14 total tackles also tie him for 13th in the NFL (with seen others), showing vast improvement against the run.
That improvement has led to a healthy 2.2 run defense grade from Pro Football Focus.
“He could easily be one of those perennial Pro Bowl players if he stays healthy and puts it all together,” Kiwanuka said.
Moore agreed that he still has a lot of room for growth. “I still feel like I have more gears to hit,” Moore told the Sports Xchange (via Yahoo Sports). “It's only the fourth game of the preseason, and this is a long rigorous schedule.
“At the end of the day, it’s about constantly improving as time progresses, which I feel like I do every year. Right now, it's a good thing, going to watch film and fix what I need to fix. Let's constantly get better and see where I am at the end of the year.”
Rashad Jennings Is Going to Be the Secret Weapon on Offense
If you’re looking for an early candidate to label as the Giants’ most underrated free-agent acquisition from the 2014 offseason, look no further than running back Rashad Jennings.
Jennings currently leads the Giants in all-purpose yards with 219 and is the league leader in rushing yards with 192. His all-purpose yardage totals shouldn’t come as any surprise.
Besides the yardage production on offense, Jennings has upped his game as a pass-blocker.
After having a forgettable showing against the Colts, he’s bounced back nicely, doing an exceptional job of picking up the blitz against the Jets' aggressive defensive front, which has been known to try twists and stunts.
Per Pro Football Focus, Jennings has allowed just one quarterback hit through four games, which against the Colts in the third preseason game.
"Being a student of the game is something every player has to go through," Jennings told reporters. "Studying tape and understanding the overall picture of the protection, understanding the overall picture of routes, and where you fit in the triangle of it. ... But as far as coming across and going backside, that’s just a part of playing football, and it comes from repetition."
The big question with Jennings will be whether the Giants can get him through an entire season. Running backs tend to take a beating—that comes with playing the position.
If the Giants can keep Jennings and rookie Andre Williams on the field, their rushing attack is going to likely be the offense’s secret weapon this year.
The Fullback Battle is Over
Coming into training camp, one of the most underrated yet close position battles was at fullback. The battle pitted two very good NFL fullbacks in Henry Hynoski and John Conner against each other.
After about a week of camp, the first draft of the Giants unofficial depth chart listed Hynoski as being ahead in the competition, but there were still some reservations.
Hynoski, remember, was coming off a lost 2013 season in which he dealt with knee and shoulder injuries, the latter of which ended his season after only three games.
Conner, meanwhile, had come in off the street and had performed well in Hynoski’s absence, finishing as Pro Football Focus’ third-best overall fullback in the NFL last year.
However, when the Giants changed offensive philosophies, things started to favor Hynoski, who has shown that he’s more consistent.
Hynoski has been so solid, in fact, that he revealed that offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo gave him a package of H-back plays that would ordinarily go to a tight end.
It hasn’t helped Conner that he had to miss some time due to a concussion, but what’s really hurt him this summer is his lack of consistency. Currently, PFF has him ranked as the 27th-best fullback in the NFL, a grade that includes a minus-1.4 grade in run blocking, supposedly a strength.
Hynoski, meanwhile, is tied for fourth with Tommy Bohanon of the Jets in his overall grade, though his run-blocking grade of 1.3 ties him for sixth with Austin Johnson of the Saints.
With one game remaining, it’s highly unlikely Conner catches up to Hynoski in this competition.
It doesn't matter who it happens to, when it happens or how it happens.
Injuries stink because they mess with the plans to build a roster, deplete depth at certain positions and, more importantly, crush the dreams of the young men who work so hard all year long for that one opportunity to be a part of a pro sports team.
So to all the Giants players—no, make that all the NFL players—who suffered injuries that now threaten their chance to contribute in 2014, chin up. This too shall pass.