And just like that, the 2021 preseason is almost over, with just one game remaining until teams need to make their final cutdown to their 53-man roster.
The New York Giants didn’t get the result they may have wanted Sunday, losing to the Cleveland Browns 17-13, but that doesn’t mean the game was a wash. Far from it, preseason games are about much more than points scored or wins and losses. They’re about evaluating the team in circumstances that can only crop up in real game situations, as well as evaluating individual players in those live situations.
And with that in mind, we certainly have some things we can learn from the Giants’ game against the Browns.
Starters sat again
After two weeks of preseason games, one thing is becoming abundantly clear: Nobody quite knows how to handle the 2021 preseason. One of the things we talked about in the run-up through the off-season and training camp was how teams would balance a truncated preseason with getting their team ready for an expanded regular season.
As we noted last week, some teams have treated these first two preseason games like the first two weeks under the previous CBAs. They ran out their starters at the beginning of the game, got them some work
For the Giants, the plan seems to be preserving their starters for Week 1 against the Denver Broncos.
A big part of that is going to managing fatigue over the course of a 17-game season. Teams don’t want their core players to go into the season with appreciable fatigue built up. We need to recognize that while there are still 20 total games, that fourth preseason game was swapped for a late-season regular season game. And I don’t care how hard you practice, how hard you play in August, it’s not going to be as taxing as a full regular season game.
The other part of the equation could be the loss of that fourth preseason game. While fans (and therefore the accountants) might have hated that fourth preseason game, we might have underestimated its importance to coaches and players. That was the game in which players fighting to stay on the roster — and for some, keep their NFL dreams alive — got to shine. It was also the game which helped teams make some important decisions on the back third of their roster. For the most part, teams are pretty sure about the first 40 guys on their roster, and it’s the back end of the squad that forces difficult decisions.
Part of the Giants’ decision to play their backups for almost two full games could be to help make decisions about players on the roster bubble and important positions of depth.
The Giants’ coaches remarked on the quality and physicality of the starters’ practices against the Browns. We still expect to see the Giants’ starters next week against the New England Patriots, but it remains to be seen whether the Giants’ plan to bubble wrap their starters will pay off in the long run.
With the Giants sitting so many starters, it can be tough to draw any kind of conclusion about the offense or defense. One thing that has stood out over the first two games has been some ... Inconsistent tackling.
The Browns were able to move the ball pretty easily through the first two quarters, and part of that was poor tackling. The Giants had some good plays throughout the first two quarters, such as Trent Harris’ tackle of Demetric Felton for a 2-yard loss, but the team struggled to bring ball carriers down. There were a number of plays on the Browns’ first two drives in which they would make initial contact close to the line of scrimmage. But rather than wrapping up and bringing their man to the ground, too many defenders went for arm tackles or shoulder checks.
This isn’t an emergency yet, but the issues bringing ball carriers to the ground has been consistent enough that the team really needs to address it sooner rather than later.
The Giants should be comfortable with Devontae Booker
Last week it was Corey Clement showing out at running back, hitting the hole hard and churning for yards after contact.
This week it was “starting” running back Devontae Booker who impressed in the running game. And of the players who started the game for the Giants, Booker is likely the one the team would want to see on a regular season field the most.
The Giants did a better job opening holes on the ground in the first two quarters, but Booker was the star of the show. He was efficient behind the line of scrimmage, showing good vision and discipline in setting up and following his blocks. That was enough to get him to and through the line of scrimmage, but Booker forced more than his share of broken tackles and yards after contact. While Booker doesn’t have elite speed or explosiveness, he has really good contact balance and subtle body control. Those subtle moves helped bread defenders’ angles, while Booker’s balance and lower body strength let him weather tackle attempts to keep picking up yards.
He showed enough that the Giants should definitely feel comfortable giving him a respectable share of the offense and keep reps off of Saquon Barkley.
Oshane Ximines flashes
The Giants didn’t do a great job of setting the edge in the run game, nor did they generate much pressure when they weren’t blitzing.
At least that was true of the Giants’ defenders not named Oshane Ximines.
Ximines had a quiet game last week against the Jets as he comes back from the shoulder injury which ended his 2020 season. In fact, many have had Ximines as a player not only fighting for his position in the depth chart, but even for his spot on the final roster. If so, he made a strong case for himself against the Browns’ second and third string offensive players. He has was active as a pass rusher, even coming up with a sack against former teammate Kyle Lauletta as well as collecting a pass defensed. But while making plays in the passing game is of obvious importance, setting a firm edge in the running game is vital for Patrick Graham’s defense.
Much of the Giants’ run defense is centered around clogging up inside running lanes, and the runs which aren’t funneled to the middle linebacker are spilled to the outside. That puts the onus on the EDGE defenders to not give up the edge and either making plays themselves or giving their teammates time to rally to the ball.
Ximines showing up in both run and pass defense should help him make his case to not only make the roster, but be a primary rotational player.