Week 3 of the NFL preseason (really Week 4 for the New York Giants) is usually the most telling week of the preseason for NFL teams. Starters will likely play more than in any other preseason game and at least minimal game plans will be in place for the only time in the preseason. The fact that the Giants opponent is the New York Jets, making this a rivalry game with the Giants posing as guests in their own building, adds flavor to the game.
What should you be looking for from the Giants on Friday night? Here are five things to watch.
No one is looking for perfection from the Giants first-team offense. Signs of rhythm, a few first downs, some success throwing the ball, clean pockets for Eli Manning, holes for running backs and some solid blitz pick-ups would, however, be nice.
"Based on last week I would hope that there is a significant production and better quality of play from our one's certainly," head coach Tom Coughlin said.
With the regular season less than three weeks away the Giants remain unsettled at wide receiver, tight end and along the offensive line. They have talked about the development of the offense as a process and about how they see positive signs in practice. Some success from Eli Manning and Co. would have to boost the Giants' confidence entering the regular season.
It would certainly soothe some of the panic emanating from the fan base.
Which Receivers Will Make Plays?
The Giants know Victor Cruz is a star. After that the wide receiver and tight end positions are filled with nothing but question marks.
"That's a continuous battle right now to sort that thing out," Coughlin said. "Who's going to be the playmakers? Who are they?"
The Giants know Rueben Randle will be one of their primary receivers. They just don't know if Randle can step up to be a No. 1 receiver or if he is more of a complementary piece. Jerrel Jernigan has failed to follow up on his impressive finish to last season. Coughlin was critical this week of Jernigan after the receiver missed a catchable deep ball from Manning.
Young guns Corey Washington and Marcus Harris have been impressive. Their production, however, has all come late in games and been largely against players who won't be on NFL rosters during the regular season. What will happen when they step up in class? Can they continue to make plays?
Can veteran Mario Manningham, who continues to be given plenty of opportunities despite not yet showing much of his old form, show anything? Can Preston Parker, who has returned punts and kickoffs along with playing fairly well as a receiver, show enough play-making ability to make the team?
With Odell Beckham Jr. sidelined again and looking increasingly like a player who won't help the Giants early in the season the remaining receivers have an opportunity. Who will grab it?
This situation is still sorting itself out, although it looks like Larry Donnell, Adrien Robinson and Kellen Davis will be the three to make the team -- unless the Giants add a tight end via trade or off the waiver wire. At this point figuring out the pecking order between the three is virtually impossible.
Donnell has been the front-runner to be No. 1 for several weeks now. Robinson impressed with two huge catches at the end of the Colts game and Coughlin indicated that "he certainly has given himself an opportunity to play a little bit more." Davis also made an impressive touchdown catch vs. the Colts and is a veteran blocking tight end.
The tepid play of the starting defense over the first three preseason games has not escaped notice, or Coughlin's wrath. Here is Coughlin talking about the starting defense vs. the Indianapolis Colts last week:
"We weren't able to stop them in any consistent fashion at all," Coughlin said. "We had a play here and a play there, but by in large it wasn't what we expected out of this particular game for our team."
The Giants defense, especially early in the season, is going to have to be able to control opposing offenses and make some game-altering plays. It would be nice to see signs of the ability to do that on Friday night
Will Andre Williams Survive?
The rookie made himself a target for the Jets on Friday be exuberantly saying "The Giants are the real New York team." We know Giants fans agree, of course, but Ryan and the Jets obviously do not. The Jets coach says he figures Williams "is going to get some Riddells put on him" by Jets defenders. Let's just hope that nobody takes a cheap shot at the talented rookie. He seems headed for a big role this season, and the Giants can't afford to lose any more play-makers.
The Giants did not cover punts especially well last week vs. the Indianapolis Colts, giving up an average of 11 yards on six returns. They did not return them especially well, either, and Quintin Demps fumbled at the end of the one good return -- a 42-yarder -- that the Giants had.
Another thing to watch might be who the Giants use as gunners and personal protectors for punter Steve Weatherford. That might offer a clue as to which 'bubble' players are getting serious consideration for the 53-man roster.
Finally, there has been little thus far to separate veteran placekicker Josh Brown and rookie Brandon McManus. Let's see if either kicker can grab an advantage Friday night.