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Patriots 22, Giants 20: 4 things we learned from the preseason finale

What can we take away from the dress rehearsal for the regular season?

New England Patriots v New York Giants Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The New York Giants had a disappointing end to their preseason on Sunday night, falling to the New England Patriots 22-20.

It still seems a bit surreal that the 2021 preseason is now over, but the next time we see the Giants on the field will be against the Denver Broncos in Week 1 of the regular season.

So what did the game being billed as the “dress rehearsal” for the 2021 regular season tell us about the Giants?

The offensive line’s struggles

There were concerns about the Giants’ starting offensive line entering preseason, and their first extended action did little to assuage those worries.

While the broadcast focused on the struggles of left tackle Andrew Thomas, there was plenty of concern to be had across the board.

Veteran Nate Solder surprisingly got the start in place of Matt Peart, who reportedly struggled in practice. Solder struggled mightily at right tackle and Daniel Jones faced as much pressure from his right as his left. Matt Peart rotated onto the field for the Giants second and fourth possessions, but he struggled as well after a good first rep.

Interestingly, Peart stayed on the field into the second half. Whether the team feels he needs more reps or they still see him as a backup or platoon player bears watching as we start the season.

The Patriots’ interior offensive line was more than a match for center Nick Gates, right guard Will Hernandez, and the platoon of Kenny Wiggins and Ted Larsen at left guard. Not only was New England able to generate pressure and penetration on the interior, but the offensive line struggled to open holes on the ground. Devontae Booker ran hard and did his best, but he was only able to average 2.0 yards on his 7 carries.

The offensive line did seem to settle down a bit on the final drive to end the half, but we can’t ignore the context that New England had pulled their starters by that point. It’s one thing to hold off Anfernee Jennings and Tashawn Bower, but they have work to do before seeing Von Miller and Bradley Chubb in two weeks.

Quick offense reigns

Having a leaky (to be charitable) offensive line can handcuff an offense — Giants’ fans know that all too well. Likewise, having a significant number of your intended starting skill positions will limit how an offensive coordinator is able to call his game.

That being said, what we saw from the Giants’ offense is in line with what we saw from the first three preseason games and much of last season. On the ground, the Giants relied heavily on an inside running game, which makes sense given that they’re usually able to execute it will. The team also used a relatively large number of misdirection plays, getting the ball to receivers running laterally behind the line of scrimmage. Likewise, we saw screens to running backs and tight end Evan Engram. It seems increasingly likely that these plays, many of which went to C.J. Board and Dante Pettis, will go to Kadarius Toney in the regular season.

It’s certainly possible that the Giants want to push the ball further downfield, but don’t want to show too many of their cards in the preseason. It’s also possible that with Kenny Golladay recovering from a hamstring injury and the offensive line giving up too much pressure that the Giants’ didn’t want to risk longer-developing plays. However, it seems likely that passing plays in the 3-7 yard range will form the foundation of the Giants’ passing attack. We’ve seen far too many plays in that range this preseason for that to not be a big part of the Giants’ offense.

While those quick passes generally aren’t conducive to big plays, they do tend to be safe. Daniel Jones completed 17 of 22 passing attempts, but he averaged just 6.1 yards per attempt.

Tight end injuries loom large

Evan Engram was one of the focal points of the Giants’ offense in the first half. In previous games we saw Rysen John used to attack the seams of deep coverage zones, which is a role Engram should be expected to play in the regular season. The Giants missed that facet to their offense in previous seasons, and it would be a good use of Engram’s skillset.

However, Engram left the field before the first half was over and was quickly ruled out with a calf injury. That was bad enough in and of itself, though we don’t have a timeline for Engram as of this writing. More importantly, we suddenly have questions at the tight end position.

Kyle Rudolph sat out of the game after just coming off the PUP list this past week. At 31 and coming off of a foot injury, it’s fair to wonder if Rudolph is physically capable of regaining his form from three years ago. If Rudolph takes time to get up to speed after missing most of his offseason and Engram has to miss appreciable time, the Giants’ tight end depth is suddenly Kaden Smith.

For a team that lead the league in multiple tight end sets a year ago, that could be a problem worth following as the Giants trim their roster to 53 players this week.

Smith did play well when he got on the field, so the team could be able to get by with more 21 or 11-personnel sets while they feel out the rest of the depth chart.

Tackling still needs work

I’m starting to feel like a broken record, but the Giants’ tackling has stopped being a case where the coaches need to get it buttoned down and could be a legitimate problem. The Giants’ defense — and their back-up defense in particular — has all but hemorrhaged yards after contact this preseason.

The Giants’ starting defense tackle reasonably well given their lack of reps in preseason games. However there were still too many arm tackle attempts, not to mention players biting hard on misdirection and play-action.

The real problem lies with the backup defenders. Many of these guys won’t be on the team by Wednesday, but more than a few of them will. Most importantly, the team be depending on these players to fill out their special teams. Tackling and discipline are absolutely paramount to special teams play at any level of football, and the Giants can’t let those issues on defense bleed over into their special teams units. The team will also absolutely need to work on tackling and discipline in case any of these players are needed to fill in for a starter.

Who helped themselves in the second half?

Much of the preseason has served to help the Giants evaluate their depth players. The second half of this game is no different, and there were some players who stepped up to make their case to make the final roster. Since preseason is a time to make mistakes, I’m going to concentrate on the players to made positive contributions on offense, defense, or special teams (or some combination thereof).

  • Trent Harris (OLB)
  • Alex Bachman (WR)
  • Damion Willis (WR)
  • David Moa (iDL)
  • Corey Clement (RB)