CANTON, Ohio -- The running game is the part of the New York Giants' offense that looked the best in Sunday night's preseason opener. But quarterback is the position on which the spotlight shines the brightest, so it's worth taking a look at the way the Giants' quarterbacks played in this game.
Eli Manning took the first 20 snaps, getting a third series at the helm of the first-team offense after the first two series disappointed. Ryan Nassib took the next 29 snaps, as the team works to get him a long look in the preseason and the best possible shot at winning the No. 2 quarterback job. Curtis Painter took the final 15 snaps and, for purposes of this analysis, was largely irrelevant. Painter completed all three of his passes, but who on earth was he playing against?
So start with Manning. His first series looked disjointed, as the Giants struggled to get themselves lined up correctly on the first play and Manning's first pass fell incomplete. A failed run play set up third-and-long, and Manning's screen pass to Rashad Jennings failed to gain enough for the first down. On the second series, he went 3 of 3, throwing twice to Jennings and once to Jerrel Jernigan. Short, quick stuff the likes of which will form the foundation of the new passing offense and, ideally, dramatically improve Manning's completion percentage.
"As we get better with the pass protection, the ball will go down the field a little bit more," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.
But that second possession ended ugly, as Bills defensive lineman Kyle Williams slipped past a momentarily confused Geoff Schwartz and sacked Manning and forced a fumble that Buffalo recovered. Charles Brown, filling in at left tackle for Will Beatty, had been shaky in protection on some plays before that, but it was Schwartz who was at fault on this one, and it was an ugly reminder that Manning is going to be only as good as his protection.
"I probably had bad pocket movement," Manning said. "I should have more stepped up into the pocket rather than spin out, and also protect the ball. I thought I had a pretty good grip on it, but I have to make sure I have two hands on it, and I can't fumble in that situation."
Manning completed both of his passes on the third possession, when the Giants went heavily to the run and marched 80 yards for a touchdown. The pass to tight end Daniel Fells right before Andre Williams' 21-yard run was Manning's only pass of at least 10 yards.
"I'm glad we had that one last opportunity to get something going there," Manning said.
Overall, it felt like a get-his-feet-wet game for Manning. As he pointed out, the quarterbacks don't have to deal with the threat of contact even in the team's full-contact practices. So preseason games are a different sort of test. He said the communication from the sidelines with new coordinator Ben McAdoo was smooth and that he felt everyone was comfortable with what they were trying to do. The Giants have four preseason games remaining, and Manning is likely to play in all but the final one.
As for Nassib, he was 7 of 12 for 139 yards, 73 of which came on the fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Corey Washington. Nassib admitted that ball was a bit underthrown and gave credit to the 6-foot-4 Washington for leaping over his defender to get it and turn around and run to the end zone. I thought Nassib's first series was his best. He looked good rolling out to his right and firing the ball to Larry Donnell on his first play. And he hit Marcus Harris on a nice 25-yarder two plays later. On that possession, which ended with a field goal, I thought Nassib looked cool and in command.
But his accuracy is obviously still an issue, and he had a rough third-quarter series on which he threw an interception right into the chest of linebacker Preston Brown. It called back due to a roughing-the-passer penalty that didn't seem to contribute to the throw or the decision. On the play after that, Nassib found himself in trouble and all he could do was spike the ball for an obvious intentional grounding penalty. He's still shaky, but that's to be expected for a second-year quarterback who didn't play as a rookie.
"He needs to get better and add some more, but the play there at the end was nice to hit a big play," Coughlin said. "He's a very serious young man, a talented kid that needs to play. Didn't get to play at all last year, so he needs some time. He'll grow and he'll get better."
Expect to see a lot more of Nassib on Saturday night against the Steelers.