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Giants Vs. Jets: It’s All On The Line

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Saturday night’s game is all about the offensive line

NFL: New York Giants-OTA Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday night sees the New York Giants take on the New York Jets, just five days after the Giants’ Monday night game against the Cleveland Browns.

This game, the humorously titled “Snoopy Bowl,” is ostensibly for bragging rights in the city of New York. In the grand scheme of things, who wins the game is largely meaningless. Which team actually “owns” New York will be decided in the regular season — when the games actually count towards a parade down the Canyon Of Heroes.

For the Giants, as a team, Saturday night’s game might not count but it does have meaning. In particular this will be their last — and best — chance to grow confidence in the offensive line before the season starts.

There are two reasons to watch the offensive line closely against the Jets.

The first of which is the Jets’ talented defensive line, which features a trio of long, athletic, explosively powerful, and talented linemen in Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams, and Sheldon Richardson. The three first-round linemen might not all be on the field at the same time, but they will all present a significant challenge to the Giants’ offensive line. They have struggled against both power and speed when faced with it this preseason.

The Giants have placed an emphasis on rediscovering the running game in advance of the 2017 season, leading off their first two pre-season games with rushing plays. They will be testing themselves against one of the few linemen who can be mentioned in the same breath as the Giants’ own Damon Harrison in Leonard Williams. Pro Football Focus credits Williams as the only interior defender to come within five run stops of Harrison in 2016. They also credit Richardson as a top-five run defender at defensive end. The Giants’ offensive line will need to show marked improvement if the team is to make any kind of headway running the ball early in the game.

There isn’t just the personnel used, but also how they are used. The Jets run a “multiple” defense that plays out of both 3-4 and 4-3 looks, using the size and athleticism of their defensive linemen to their advantage. The Giants’ offensive line has struggled against “odd” (three-man) fronts in the past.

Center Weston Richburg is less able to use his quickness and precision to overcome the size and strength advantages that nose tackles tend to enjoy. The 3-4 front brings rush linebackers into play, who bring more speed and different angles than usually seen from 4-3 defensive ends and challenge the weaknesses of Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart.

The second reason why this game is important is that the third preseason game is generally the “dress rehearsal” for the regular season. The first team offense (except, in all likelihood, Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall) will be on the field for most of the game. This will be the first game where coaches gameplan and scheme for the other team. If the offense has any new wrinkles in their blocking schemes, this is when they will be most likely to show some evidence of them.

The coaching staff is unlikely to show their full hand when it comes to schematic changes made going in to the second year of Ben McAdoo’s tenure; but they will also play more like a normal game than in previous preseason games.

The offense can’t play to its full potential against the Jets, not without Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall. The absence of the Giants’ top receivers will likely allow the defense to concentrate on choking out the run game, and force the Giants to try and beat them with Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram.

This is also likely the last time the Giants’ (mostly) complete starting offense will take the field against a complete starting defense in a game situation until September 10th against the Dallas Cowboys. The Giants and New England Patriots are both likely to rest many of their starters in the fourth, and final, preseason game. The starting offensive line will likely play, but they may not play many snaps against starters or with other starters on their own team. There’s only so much value to be had in situations like that — better than practice reps, but hardly anything to hang their hat on and say “we’re ready”.

The defensive line the Giants are playing and the fact that this is the third preseason game make Saturday night important. This is both the offensive line’s best, and likely last, chance to show coaches and fans that there is reason for optimism. The Jets might have one of the worst overall rosters in the NFL, but they have some of the best defensive linemen.

The Giants’ offensive line has to take the opportunity to show reason to have confidence that they can get the job done.