The first game of the New York Giants 2021 season is in the books.
Unfortunately it’s going into the books as a disappointing loss the New York Jets, but this is preseason and while winning is nice, it isn’t the goal of most teams. It’s important to remember that the Peyton Manning Colts rarely won in the preseason, while the 0-16 Lions finished 4-0 in the preseason. For most teams, the preseason is about evaluating the roster, testing the team in real game situations, working on the fundamentals of their scheme, and getting the players used to playing against players who aren’t their teammates.
This year’s preseason is also venturing into uncharted waters as the NFL moves to a 17-game season with a 3-game preseason schedule.
That being said, there are certainly things those of us on the outside can learn from the game and inferences we can make from who played and how much.
Who started, who sat?
QB - Mike Glennon (2)
LT - Andrew Thomas (78)
LG - Kenny Wiggins (79)
OC - Nick Gates (65)
RG - Will Hernandez (71)
RT - Matt Peart (74)
WR - Dante Pettis (13)
WR - C.J. Board (15)
WR - Darius Slayton (86)
TE - Kaden Smith (82)
RB - Devontae Booker (28)
DL - B.J. Hill (95)
NT - Austin Johnson (98)
DL - Danny Shelton (75)
EDGE - Azeez Ojulari (51)
EDGE - Trent Harris (93)
iLB - Reggie Ragland (55)
iLB - Tae Crowder (48)
CB - Isaac Yiadom (27)
CB - Madre Harper (45)
S - Julian Love (20)
DB - Joshua Kalu (39)
Starters who got the night off
We saw wildly varied approaches to the first game of the preseason from teams around the league. Some teams, like the Giants, treated the game almost like the fourth game from years past. Historically, the final game of the preseason was treated as a rest week for starters or, alternatively, a showcase for the depth players. Meanwhile, other teams, like the Denver Broncos, treated the game almost like the second preseason game in years past
As mentioned above — and as anyone watching the game would have noticed — the Giants gave most of their starters the night off. Some of their decisions were motivated by caution regarding injury, but regardless, they were among the league leaders in starters on the sidelines with 14.
QB - Daniel Jones
WR - Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Kadarius Toney
TE - Evan Engram
OL - Shane Lemieux (knee)
RB - Saquon Barkley (knee)
DL - Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence II
EDGE - Lorenzo Carter
LB - Blake Martinez
CB - James Bradberry, Adoree Jackson
S - Xavier McKinney
Stats and snap counts
So now that we know which starters sat and who started in their place lets take a look at some of the highlights from the snap counts and box scores and see what we can glean from them.
Note: In the regular season this post would include player tracking data and various advanced metrics for insights we can’t get from the box score or the film room. But given that this is the preseason, those services aren’t available yet. Likewise, the small sample sizes and the fact that teams aren’t necessarily trying to win, they would only give limited insight at best.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Giants’ core starters had a short night. The starting offensive line (except Kenny Wiggins) and QB Mike Glennon only played 18 offensive snaps, and were off the field by the second quarter. Of course, the Giants’ offense as a whole wasn’t on the field much, playing just 48 snaps and controlled the ball for 20 minutes, 11 seconds.
As both the starting and reserve left guard, Wiggins played by far the most snaps on the Giants’ offense, with 41 of 48 possible snaps. Wide receiver David Sills V played the second most snaps among the Giants’ offensive players with 32. Sills got on the field throughout the game, playing from the first quarter to the fourth quarter. Sills was also the offensive star of the game, racking up an impressive 49 yards on 3 receptions (5 targets, 16.3 yards per catch). He was perfect through the first three quarters — including a big 37-yard reception to convert a third down — but former Giant Corey Ballentine managed to knock the ball out of his hands twice in the fourth quarter.
Interestingly, running backs Devontae Booker, Corey Clement, and Sandro Platzgummer played exactly 11 snaps each on offense (23 percent). As mentioned above, Booker started the game and played the first quarter, while Clement came on in relief for the second quarter, likely signaling their positions on the depth chart. Booker didn’t find much running room early on, with just 3 carries for 12 yards, most of which came on a single 8-yard carry. Clement was impressive behind the reserve offensive line, running hard and executing counter runs well. He carried the ball 5 times, picking up 32 yards (6.4 per carry), though his night was marred by a fumble in the red zone.
Platzgummer was the Giants’ leading rusher and their other offensive star. The Austrian import carried the ball just four times, but the highlight of the night came on a 48 yard run with the Giants backed up on their own 1-yard line. Platzgummer took advantage of some bad contain by the Jets’ defense, quickly turned the corner and got the ball to mid-field before Ballentine was able to run him down. While he didn’t find much running room outside of that big run, that was likely enough to catch the coaches’ attention.
Wide receiver turned tight end Rysen John might also have caught the coaches’ eye with his play. John was on the field for 12 offensive snaps and 4 special teams snaps, and looked good as a “hybrid tight end”. He used his big frame, athleticism, and receiving skills well to put himself in position and box out defenders while securing the ball. He was the Giants’ second most reliable receiver with 3 receptions on 4 targets for 14 yards — with that lone incompletion coming on a pass Clayton Thorson threw into the turf at his feet. John was in position to make a good play with a catch, but Thorson gave him no chance. He shouldn’t be looked at as a blocking tight end to replace Levine Toilolo, but John could still develop into a real weapon and moveable piece in the passing game.
We also have to mention who didn’t play, and rookie RB Gary Brightwell’s absence from the field was notable. The sixth round pick didn’t get on the field once on offense or special teams, and is clearly behind Barkley, Booker, Clement, Alfred Morris (6 snaps), and Platzgummer on the depth chart. Brightwell was seen working on the side in practice this week and could have been held out with an injury, but he’s in a fight for his roster spot.
We also need to talk about third string QB Clayton Thorson. Thorson played 30 snaps — the entire game from the second quarter on. He ultimately exited the game with an injury on the same safety which essentially ended the game for the Giants. And while we certainly hope Thorson is okay, his play wasn’t. The 2019 fifth round pick was responsible for the Giants’ only points on the night with a touchdown pass to Damion Willis (15 offensive snaps, 5 special teams), but he was consistently wild all night long. Thorson threw the ball into the turf on a roll-out to Alfred Morris who was just two or three yards downfield, as well as on the afore mentioned pass to Rysen John. On other occasions he lead receivers out of bounds or wildly over-threw them. We don’t know if the Giants are planning on keeping two or three quarterbacks on their roster, but the team might be looking at the waiver wire after Thorson’s performance.
The flip side of the Giants’ offense only being on the field for 48 snaps and 20 minutes meant that the defense played a LOT. The Giants had a total of 77 defensive snaps and were on the field for almost 40 minutes of game clock.
Cornerbacks Madre Harper (who started the game) and Rodarius Williams were on the field for most of the game, playing 67 and 61 snaps, respectively. Harper also played 6 special teams snaps and lead the Giants with 8 solo tackles. Williams had one of the highlight reel plays for the defense, snagging the fumble knocked loose by linebacker T.J. Brunson and returning it 29 yards. However, Williams was also inconsistent in coverage, at times looking a bit lost or having some communications issues.
Linebacker Trent Harris also had a heavy workload, playing 59 defensive snaps and 13 special teams snaps after starting the game. That start, the defensive work load, and special teams opportunities suggest that Harris might just be pretty high on the Giants’ depth chart and could have a real chance of making the final roster.
But when it comes to linebackers, the star of the show — and of the night for the defense — was second year player Carter Coughlin. We’ve already brought him up a few times since the end of the game, but it was a great debut for Coughlin, who has been transitioning from collegiate EDGE to NFL linebacker. Coughlin looked in command of the (admittedly vanilla) defense, communicating well before the snap and processing information very quickly after the snap. His natural athleticism showed up in his ability to cover ground, both attacking downhill and moving in space. Coughlin’s pass rushing roots suggest a lot of versatility as he was also responsible for the Giants’ only sack of the night. Coughlin single-handedly derailed the Jets’ opening drive of the second half, first by limiting La’Mical Perine to just 2 yards on a 2nd and 5 run, then later in the drive turning a 3rd and 5 into a 4th and 12 punt with his sack-fumble. Coughlin only played 24 defensive snaps to go with 14 special teams snaps, but we should look for him to get a bigger role after his performance against the Jets.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is CB Sam Beal. The opportunity was there for any of the Giants’ voluminous DB depth chart to raise their profile with starters James Bradberry and Adoree Jackson held out of the game — and slot corner Darnay Holmes playing just 10 snaps. However Beal didn’t play a single snap on defense or special teams. Beal has dealt with a significant injury history since entering the NFL, and he could have been held out of the game with an injury. However, he is also a player who needs every snap he can get after showing almost nothing after the Giants used a 3rd round pick to select him in the 2018 supplemental draft.
The number one thing every team is looking for in the preseason is to get through it without any injuries — or more realistically, as few serious injuries as possible.
Unfortunately, the Giants didn’t get through their first game unscathed. The team has likely lost two players for the year and potentially suffered another blow to their interior offensive line depth.
- LB T.J. Brunson, who forced the fumble recovered by Rodarius Williams, tore his ACL when he crumped to the ground on a pass rush later in the game.
- S Joshua Kalu suffered a torn pectoral muscle.
- OL Kyle Murphy suffered an ankle injury and, as of this writing, the Giants are still waiting on test results.
- TE Cole Hikutini left the game with a hip injury.
- No updates yet on QB Clayton Throson’s injury.