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‘Things I think’ after the Giants finish an 0-3 preseason

NFL: New England Patriots at New York Giants
Devontae Booker carries the ball.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — I want to be optimistic about the 2021 New York Giants. I really do. What I watched on Sunday, though, sure does make it difficult.

The Giants actually led, 7-6 at halftime thanks to one moment of sunshine that saw Daniel Jones complete a nine-play, 58-yard drive by hitting Kaden Smith for a touchdown in the waning seconds of the half.

In reality, though, we saw a whole lot of discouraging football.

“We’ve got two weeks to get a lot of things accomplished,” said head coach Joe Judge.”We’ve gotta be moving fast.

“We’re far from a finished product. We know that already.”

All anyone really wanted from the Giants Sunday, or in the preseason as a whole, was something to feel good about. The Giants did not deliver that. Sunday certainly left a lot of questions. Let’s go through some of them.

Offensive play by the offensive line

Oy vey!

The offensive line, so important to the Giants this season and such a big gamble the way it is constructed, did nothing to inspire confidence on Sunday night.

The Giants are counting on improvement from left tackle Andrew Thomas, the fourth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, after he surrendered more pressures (57) than all but one other tackle last season.

Unofficially, Thomas allowed 1.5 sacks, two pressures and committed a holding penalty in a half of action.

In a post-game press conference, Thomas talked a lot about hand placement, technique, sets, etc. All the same kind of stuff he talked about needing to improve upon last year. It bugs me that it didn’t look any better Sunday night.

“Started off really slow,” Thomas said. “Some things that I can improve on. My hand placement, staying wide in my set, keeping the depth of the pocket.

Thomas didn’t show it Sunday, but said he believes he is better this season.

“I think I made improvements,” Thomas said. “But there’s a lot of things I need to work on. I’m trying to fix those things in camp.”

The right tackle position is now officially up for grabs. Veteran Nate Solder started at right tackle in place of second-year man Matt Peart, who has had an up and down preseason. Solder and Peart rotated throughout the half. Solder surrendered a half-sack. Peart, starting the second half, committed a false start on the Giants’ first play.

Head coach Joe Judge said “I wouldn’t read too much” into Solder getting the start. Honestly, though, it’s kind of hard not to since Peart has been the starter from the beginning.

Left guard Shane Lemieux, still apparently dealing with the lingering effects of a knee injury suffered early in training camp, did not play. Ted Larsen started and split time with Kenny Wiggins. Larsen played both left guard and center, and got run through for a sack late in the fourth quarter.

The Giants now appear to have questions marks at three of the five starting spots on the line, and I’m not sure they can feel good about Larsen, Wiggins, Harrison, Slade or anyone else who might be a backup.

Watching the starting group play, I wonder if head coach Joe Judge would like a do-over on his decision last week to sit the starting group in the preseason game against the Cleveland Browns. They could probably have used the reps.

Von Miller and Bradley Chubb are coming to the Meadowlands in two weeks. That’s not a comforting thought.

This is improved decision-making?

Like a lot of other things in training camp, it is difficult to judge quarterback play when guys are wearing red jerseys and can’t be hit. It’s hard to tell sometimes what’s real and what’s happening simply because the quarterback can’t be hit.

The Giants have told us again and again this summer that they see improvement from Daniel Jones. He completed 17 of 22 passes (77.3 percent) on Sunday. He threw some gorgeous balls, including a 23-yard strike to Kaden Smith for a touchdown. He used his legs to generate a first down.

There was, though, an awful end-zone interception from about the one-foot line. Jones was running to his right and tried to throw across his body into the middle of the field rather than throw the ball away, which was a terrible idea. The ball was so far behind Evan Engram that it had to be a miscommunication. That just can’t happen with players who have worked together for three years. And it certainly can’t happen if Jones is going to play winning football for the Giants in 2021. It just looked way too reminiscent of the mistake-prone quarterback we have seen the past two seasons.

“Obviously a bad decision there,” Jones said.

The Giants need to get healthy

Right now, there is no information on how serious the injuries to Evan Engram (calf), Darius Slayton (ankle/foot) and Ted Larsen (knee) are. Injuries to any of those players, especially Engram and Slayton, that threaten their availability for Week 1 two weeks from now, are the last thing the Giants need.

The Giants, with the additions of Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney and Kyle Rudolph, along with the return to health of Saquon Barkley, were supposed to have improved the play-making weapons for Jones. Right now, they are operating with pretty much the same group that finished 31st in the league in offense a year ago.

The Giants need to cross their fingers and hope that at least some of those players are available, and capable of being reasonable facsimiles of themselves right from the start. The Giants face the Denver Broncos and Washington Football Team in the season’s first five days. The last thing the Giants need is to dig themselves an 0-2 hole in just five days.

Defensive depth?

The starting defense is not a problem. Watching Sunday night made me wonder if the depth might be more of a problem than I thought.

New England went for back-to-back easy scores on their first two third-quarter possession, drives of six plays, 75 yards and four plays, 50 yards. The defense didn’t look competitive in those two drives. There was also a fourth-quarter drive of 12 plays, 58 yards for a field goal.

Roster observations

A few thoughts about the roster with cuts to 53 coming by Tuesday at 4 p.m.

  • Defensive tackle B.J. Hill did not play. Aside from third quarterback Brian Lewerke, Hill was the only healthy Giant who did not get into the game. That could be an indication that Hill is on his way out, with either David Moa or undrafted free agent Richard Johnson III earning a spot. It will be interesting to see if the Giants can move Hill.
  • Alex Bachman caught a touchdown pass, but also had a drop. He won’t make the 53-man roster, and might not even stick on the practice squad.
  • Read into it what you will, but rookie running back Gary Brightwell got first-half reps while veteran Corey Clement did not play until the second half. Brightwell ran four times for 10 yards and caught three passes for 20 yards.
  • Keion Crossen and Cam Brown were the front-line punt gunners. That would indicate Matt Cole is not making the roster.