Friday, September 2, 2011
Observation deck: Giants-Patriots
By Dan Graziano
OK, there are a number of reasons this took all day and you don't want to hear any of them. It suffices to say I am ecstatic to be done watching preseason football for another year and more ready than ever for the real thing.
As for our New York Giants, who finished their preseason by scoring 15 points in the fourth quarter for a meaningless 18-17 victory over the Patriots in New England ... I don't know. I'm trying to be open-minded about what I see, but what I see with the Giants is almost all disheartening. They just do a lot of things wrong. And yes, it was all backups Thursday night, and if David Carr ends up playing significant minutes at quarterback they're cooked anyway. But there were a couple of things that could matter if they leak into the regular season, and I'm 100 percent certain the Giants' coaching staff feels the same way.
For example, when one of your biggest areas of concern is special teams and you get banged for an illegal wedge penalty on the return of the opening kickoff, that's not a good thing. When you're trying to find a No. 3 receiver and one of the candidates (Domenik Hixon, in this case) fumbles on the first play from scrimmage, that's not a good thing. When you're trying to use a rookie punt returner and the kid can't catch the ball, that's not a good thing.
The Giants had holding penalties and illegal-hands-to-the-face penalties that stopped offensive momentum. They had another significant injury, this one a season-ending ACL tear for linebacker Clint Sintim. They fumbled at the Patriots' 1-yard line. They're effectively playing without a useful tight end. Tom Coughlin's challenges aren't even working.
Now, I continue to believe preseason doesn't mean anything -- that it has no predictive value at all in terms of what will happen once the real season starts. The Giants could snap awake nine days from now and start playing well enough to make everyone forget how inept in so many facets of the game they looked in the preseason. But what we have right now to evaluate is what they've done over the past month, and not even the most myopically optimistic Giants fan can credibly say the preseason went well for them.
Some specifics on what I saw in the Giants' (mercifully) final preseason game of this year:
1. Give Jerrel Jernigan credit for toughing it out. And give the Giants credit for sticking with the rookie even as he continues to struggle with the most critical part of punt returns -- actually catching the ball. He ripped off a 42-yard return on his first chance of the night, which showed why they're giving him all of these chances. But then he muffed two in a row, and there's all kinds of footage of Coughlin and Aaron Ross and everybody you can think of working with Jernigan on the correct form to use when catching a punt. I guess I wonder how hard it is to learn something like this and why they believed he'd be a good punt returner if he didn't already know it. But once the ball is in his hands, it's clear Jernigan can do some things with it. So it appears as though they'll keep giving him chances, even if it could cost them early on. The night had a happy ending for Jernigan, as he made a tremendous catch on the two-point conversion pass that sealed the victory. You had to feel good for the guy, after the month he's had.
2. Tyler Sash looks like an athlete. The rookie safety looked quick and nimble and decisive as he came up with two sacks (one of which forced a fumble) and moved well all over the field. There were a couple of times where Tom Brady and the Patriots' offense ran some tricky looks that caught Sash out of position, but that's bound to happen and there are worse things than getting schooled by Brady in a preseason game. You still get the lesson, and it doesn't count against your record.
3. I like Da'Rel Scott better than Andre Brown. It's not personal. I don't even know Andre Brown. I'm just talking about what they look like when they run. Brown looks fine when he has room to run, but he doesn't blow you away as anything special and he doesn't look as though he does much to make it difficult to tackle him. Scott seems to have more speed, keeps his feet moving better and runs with more determination. He earned those 65 yards he got on that fake-punt touchdown, and with cuts looming tomorrow, that's the kind of play that makes it hard for a coaching staff to keep a guy off the roster.
4. I like Devin Thomas, too. Specifically, I like what he does after he catches the ball. He seems to know where his feet are and what he needs to do to find the sideline or the extra yard or two he needs. He seems like he knows how to keep his body between the ball and the defender and protect it while making those moves. He's got the skills in the return game, and the speed, but I was surprised how much I liked him Thursday night as a receiver.
5. The Sintim injury hurts. But there are rookies to take his spot, and it might help someone like Mark Herzlich or Spencer Paysinger make the roster and/or claim more playing time. The Giants liked the way Sintim had been playing, and he was their clear first option off the bench in the case of an injury to one of their starting linebackers. Now it's not as cut-and-dried, and they'll hope somebody from the rookie group can step in when they need to spell a starter.