- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It sure looked as though it would be David Wilson's night when the explosive second-year back ran 84 yards for a touchdown on the New York Giants' first play from scrimmage. And there's no denying Wilson's rare ability as a runner. He can make things happen that most other running backs can't when he has his hands on the ball.
Wilson got only four more carries in the rest of the Giants' 24-21 preseason overtime loss to the New York Jets, while Andre Brown got seven. And I'm interested to see the snap-count numbers, because I believe Brown was on the field considerably more in the first half than Wilson was (neither played in the second). Of the eight third-down plays the Giants ran in the first half, Brown was the lone halfback on six of them, Wilson on one and both were in on one. Brown was also on the field (and Wilson on the sideline) for all four of the plays the Giants ran inside the Jets' 10-yard line. And in the second quarter, he got the bulk of the first-down and second-down work as well.
What's it mean? Well, I think the reason Brown was getting the third-down work Sunday night and again Saturday was because the Giants trust him more in pass protection right now than they trust Wilson. And I wonder if he started getting the early-down work for the same reason, because Eli Manning looked uncharacteristically uneasy in the first quarter behind a revamped offensive line that lost starters David Baas and David Diehl to injury in the Colts game Sunday. It's possible the Giants put Brown in because they're worried the depleted line can't protect Manning sufficiently right now, and if that concern were to linger into the regular season, Brown could end up getting first-down and second-down carries even then.
It's a real conundrum, because the Giants can't ignore what Wilson offers them as a runner, but their No. 1 priority is absolutely the protection of Manning. It's possible they do trust Wilson in pass protection more than it appears and they're giving Brown all the extra work in an effort to preserve Wilson for the season. But they weren't preserving any of their other starters in the first half Saturday night, and I know they like the way Brown has run the ball this summer. So this remains a situation worth watching closely when the regular season begins.
Anyway, here are some other things I took away from an unnecessarily late night at the Meadowlands:
The knee injury to starting safety Stevie Brown could be pretty serious. Giants coach Tom Coughlin said he didn't have any new information after the game, but he also said, "I feel bad for Stevie. He's been a tremendous addition to our team, and the guy has another interception and then that happens." Brown, who had eight interceptions last season and is one of the Giants' projected starting safeties this season as a result, appeared to go down without being hit while returning an interception in the first quarter. He'll surely have an MRI on Monday, and the Giants will hope the news isn't as bad as they fear.
Cornerback Jayron Hosley also left the game in the first quarter with an injury the team called an ankle sprain. He'll surely find his way into an MRI tube on Monday as well.
I'm not sure how Coughlin could watch the Jets and think he has problems, but he was sure upset about the way his offense performed in this game. Manning was 8-for-20 for 83 yards. The ground game averaged 2.5 yards per carry if you take out Wilson's first run (though, on the plus side, it was 6.0 yards per carry if you don't!). They were 3-for-18 on third downs. They allowed four sacks. They couldn't get in on four tries at the goal line. "It's very obvious that, in all three areas, we're not doing what we need to do on the offensive end," Coughlin said. "We've got work to do."
Jim Cordle played center in place of the injured Baas and got run over a couple of times, most notably by Sheldon Richardson on a play that resulted in a sack of Manning. Cordle said he struggled with the twists and other wrinkles the Jets front was throwing at the Giants. "Some of it was stuff I hadn't seen, but most of it was stuff we had seen and you've just got to reach a little bit faster," Cordle said. First-round pick Justin Pugh looked passable at right tackle, but there were communication issues along the line all night, as you'd expect with so much change in a short period of time.
Terrell Thomas got "20-plus plays," mostly as the nickel cornerback, in his first game action in two years. Thomas, who's recovering from two surgeries on the anterior cruciate ligament his right knee in the past two years, said he felt great playing again and will continue to build strength and confidence. Still no way to be sure what role, if any, he has on this season's team. The injuries to Brown and Hosley could conceivably create opportunities for him, though, if he shows he can play at a high enough level.
Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks wasn't on the same page with Manning all night, but he did make a one-handed circus catch along the sideline while being blatantly interfered with by Jets cornerback Kyle Wilson. And he delivered a key block on the edge to help spring Wilson on his big run. Nicks is the total package at wide receiver, and the most important thing for the Giants about him Saturday night was that he said he felt healthy.
Ryan Torain was the running back getting all of the carries once the second half started. The Giants like him as a pass protector as well.
Former Eagles defensive tackle Mike Patterson, who had brain surgery a year and a half ago after collapsing on the field during an Eagles training camp practice in 2011, looked impressive for the second game in a row. The defensive tackle play in general was a bright spot, and Patterson looks like a guy who deserves a spot in the rotation.
Finally, a word on the concept of overtime in the preseason: seriously? What a farce. In this era of supposed emphasis on player safety, the Giants and the Jets played half of an extra period to decide a winner in a game that doesn't count. Giants cornerback Laron Scott even got injured on a play in the overtime. I'd say the NFL needs to make a new rule that says preseason games can't go to overtime, but I'm astounded to learn that wasn't a rule already. It's preposterous that they'd even consider playing overtime in the preseason. Overtime is a mechanism for determining a winner in a game that ends in a tie. Preseason games do not require winners. Therefore, they do not require overtime. Pretty simple. Preseason overtime is one of the stupidest NFL things I've ever heard of. And you know, if you read me regularly, that I have a long list.
Anyway, I'll check in with you next week. Hope you enjoyed this game more than I did.
57mEric D. Williams