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4 downs: Takeaways from Giants vs. Patriots

What can we take away from the Giants first preseason game?

NFL: New York Giants at New England Patriots Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants first game of the 2022 preseason is in the books.

This was a just a preseason game and we can’t draw too many conclusions. Neither team was game planning and the New England Patriots didn’t play their starters.However, a football game was still played and there were things we can take away from the play on the field.

There were good things to see, some things the Giants will need to work on in the coming weeks, and a few insights we could glean.

First down - Kayvon Thibodeaux in coverage

We wondered just how much we would see from Wink Martindale’s defense. And while the Giants weren’t game planning, it turns out that it’s impossible for Martindale to not be aggressive. It’s just in his DNA.

We saw plenty of man coverage from the Giants’ starting defense, and on a third down we even saw one of Martindale’s blitzes. That blitz was a slot blitz on the Patriots’ first offensive drive, and involved rookie edge defender dropping into coverage. And not only did Thibodeaux drop into coverage, but he dropped into man coverage on the Patriots’ tight end.

I don’t expect to see Thibodeaux doing much besides rushing into opponents’ backfields. However, he did look competent when asked to drop into coverage in college, and that appears to be true in the NFL as well. It’s probably more significant that Martindale was willing to show that blitz in the first preseason game. Coaches generally try to avoid giving away too much in preseason, and letting opposing teams know that Thibodeaux is always a threat to drop into coverage is surprising.

It could, however, also mean that these blitzes are so central to the Giants’ defense that Martindale couldn’t run his defense without showing something.

Second down - An ugly start

Preseason football is, of course, preseason football. And this game was just ugly.

We’ll start with the fact that it seemed as thought there was a flag on every play, or at least every other play. Both teams, on offense and defense, struggled with holds, pass interference, and false starts. All told, there were 20 penalties called, costing the two teams a combined 154 yards. Yuck.

And speaking of flags, second-year cornerback Aaron Robinson had a tough night. Brian Hoyer looked to target Robinson early and often in the game, and there was hay to be made. Robinson was repeatedly beaten by the Patriots’ receivers, though he was able to show off his recovery speed on one deep pass attempt that was underthrown by Hoyer. Unfortunately, he was beaten again for a big gain on the very next play. Robinson seemed a bit slow to flip his hips and wasn’t able to get in phase with receivers through their breaks. He capped his performance with a taunting call to give the Patriots a fresh set of downs on the Giants’ 2-yard line.

The Giants’ first-string offense just looked out of sync at the start of the game. Players were slow to react to the snap and Kenny Golladay ran a very poor route, while Collin Johnson had an ugly fumble to go with a big deflected ball. The offense as a whole seemed a bit disjointed as it stumbled through the first quarter. The second string offense was a bit smoother, but there were still too many plays with the ball bouncing wildly — not to mention too many breakdowns in protection.

The Giants’ special teams were an adventure as well. Graham Gano was dependable as per usual, but the rest of the squad was less-so. The Patriots were able to find plenty of room on kick and punt returns, while the Giants struggled to make any room for their own returners. C.J. Board also had a poor decision to let punt hit the ground which wound up turning good field position to starting on the 29-yard line. The special teams did tighten things up in the second half, which is good to see and is something they can build on going forward.

The good news is that this is only the first preseason game and the Giants have time to work on all of these issues.

Third down - Bellinger played a lot

Most of the Giants’ starters were done by the end of the first quarter. They were all done by the end of the first half, that is, except for rookie tight end Daniel Bellinger. While Bellinger has emerged as the Giants’ starting tight end over the start of training camp, he played into the third quarter. While the rookie can undoubtedly use the reps, that is a lot for the first preseason game. It will likely help him improve — and I did notice a tendency to let his hands drift outside of defenders’ framework, which could draw holding penalties.

However, it also speaks to the state of the Giants’ depth at tight end. It seems unlikely that Bellinger would have played as late in the game as he did if Ricky Seals-Jones or Andre Miller were healthy.

That said, this is good work for the rookie and is giving him good experience off of which he can build going forward.

Fourth Down - Tyrod Taylor is worlds better than Mike Glennon

The Giants’ second string offense functioned more crisply than I was expecting, and backup QB Tyrod Taylor was a big reason why.

Not that the bar for backup quarterback was all that high after suffering through Mike Glennon a year ago. But even so, Taylor was crisp in his operation, quickly moving through his reads and throwing an accurate ball with both touch and velocity when necessary.

Taylor wasn’t perfect and had a near-interception off a defensive lineman’s head. However, he was also able to use his quickness to evade defenders when protection broke down. There were several plays that probably should have ended in sacks, but Taylor was able to juke the defender and keep the play alive.

For the first time in a long time, Giants fans can feel pretty comfortable with their quarterback depth.