The third game is generally considered the biggest and most import of the four preseason games and is used by coaches to give their starters as close to a regular season game experience as they can. That generally means the team game planning as if it was a regular season week of preparation and starters staying on the field for the entirety of the first half — and even into the third quarter.
But this year things look as though they will be different.
The Giants aren’t playing the New York Jets
The Giants have typically played the Jets in the third game of the pre-season, using the game typically closest to a regular season contest to exercise their rivalry with the team with whom they share a stadium and a market, but only play once every four years. The game became known as the “Snoopie Bowl” in honor of Met Life’s sponsorship of the new stadium, butThe two teams play every year, but this year was somewhat unique in that it was the first game of the preseason.
The Giants won’t have their best players on the field
The third game of the preseason has typically been the one in which starters get stretched and prepared for regular season action. They see — by far — the most snaps of the preseason, play against other starters, and in the closest thing to the teams’ actual shemes they see all preseason.
However, we pretty much already know Saquon Barkley won’t play, it seems very likely as of this writing that Evan Engram won’t play. And, barring a surprise, Sterling Shepard won’t be suiting up to play the Bengals either. So while their absence does create opportunities for other players, it also makes it difficult to consider this game as a “dress rehearsal” for the regular season. Starters are starters for a reason, and we won’t be seeing anything like the Giants’ “real” offense with their three best players on the sideline.
Eli Manning will likely once again have a short night
So far the Giants’ starting quarterback has played a grand total of 17 snaps on two drives in two games. In each of the first two games the Giants have limited their starting quarterback to a single drive, regardless of the length or outcome. In years past we would have seen Eli get the entirety of the first quarter against the Chicago Bears — though the Bears’ decision to hold their own starters out of the game completely might have impacted the Giants’ calculus there.
This week we would expect Manning to get the entire first half, and likely play into the third quarter to replicate playing again after halftime in the regular season.
This year, we just don’t know.
Pat Shurmur said after the second game of the preseason that his plan for the divvying up the playing time for his four quarterbacks would “reveal itself” over the course of the game. The Giants have to balance getting Manning the reps needed to prepare to win games with getting Daniel Jones the reps he needs to get ready to assume the starting job at some point in the future.
There’s also the matter that coaches are beginning to view pre-season snaps as less important than they had in previous years — as evidenced by the Bears’ decision.
“People are starting to divert their opinions as to the importance of playing your players in the preseason games,” Shurmur said. “I’ve already heard people talking to me about the third preseason game and it’s your dress rehearsal, that’s kind of like your halftime adjustments. I think you are getting ready to play every practice and every game. As a coach, you have to weigh the importance of the work you are doing and how much work each guy gets.”
This doesn’t look as though it will be the same kind of game as we usually see in the third week of the preseason. Not playing the Jets feels unusual — though it’s hardly unheard of, and not having top players on the field also isn’t unusual. Having Eli give up snaps for the sake of a young quarterback definitely feels weird, but that’s what happens when your franchise quarterback sets a franchise record for seasons with the team.
Taken as a whole, however, this game just doesn’t seem normal. We can’t call it a dress rehearsal for the regular season when the best players on offense will be on the sideline — and two of them are completely healthy — and the starting quarterback may only get his toes wet again.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that this preseason is being wasted. Resource management is the name of the game in the NFL, and not losing your best players to attrition is an advantage. And maybe cutting down on Eli’s reps will have a positive effect to start the season.
Just because it’s different doesn’t mean that it is worse than how things were done in the past. We’ll have to wait and see whether the Giants have made the right calls.