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Four downs: Takeaways from Giants vs. Bengals

What stood out in the Giants’ second preseason game?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at New York Giants John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants beat the Cincinnati Bengals 25-22 Sunday night after a slow start to win their second preseason game. And just like that, only one game remains in the Giants preseason.

The Giants have been preaching “process” throughout the offseason, training camp, and preseason. We’ve been saying all along that the most important part of the preseason is improvement from one game over another. So what did the Giants improve on in Week 2 of the preseason, what do they still need to improve on, and what can we take away from their performance?

First down - Who got the start

For the most part, the Giants played all of their starters who were healthy to play. But while that included wide receiver Kenny Golladay, we didn’t see him until the Giants trotted out their heavy goal-line package.

Instead, it was Collin Johnson and David Sills V who joined Wan’Dale Robinson in the Giants’ starting 11-personnel package. Both players continued their strong play from practice and the first preseason game. Johnson once again proved to be a reliable option as he caught several short passes on the Giants’ first two drives. Most notably, he showed some great concentration to haul in a high-ish pass in traffic that initially bounced off his hands.

Sills made back-to-back catches on the Giants’ final drive, showing off his catch radius to make tough catches against tight coverage.

Antonio Williams got the start with Saquon Barkley, Matt Breida, and Gary Brightwell not playing, and he made the most of it. Williams continues to run hard, with good burst and contact balance. He also showed up in pass protection and has made a strong case to force his way onto the roster.

Second down - Secondary concerns

The Giants secondary, save Adoree’ Jackson, was a concern in Week 1. And how the secondary would respond was one of the big things we were watching this week.

The good news is that the Bengals offense didn’t do much against the Giants’ starting defense — at least not in the box score. However, that’s complicated by the fact that the Giants’ starting defense was going against the Bengals back-up offense.

While the Bengals had very few passing yards, the Giants corners had some concerning reps. Aaron Robinson got beat on an out-route on the final play of the Bengals’ first drive that would have converted the first down, but a poor throw resulted in an uncatchable ball.

That theme repeated a couple more times. On a later drive, Jackson was beaten down the far sideline, but Brandon Allen overthrew his receiver. Finally, Robinson’s tendency to get overly “grabby” showed up again in the end zone. Not only did Robinson maintain contact with the receiver throughout the play, but he never got his head around to look for the ball. It’s a play that could have been called pass interference — giving the Bengals another set of downs at the goal line — but, again, the pass was poor.

We had been hoping to see the Giants secondary take a step forward between the first and second games. Instead, it’s troubling to see the Giants’ starting secondary struggling with backup receivers.

Third down - Special teams

The Giants’ special teams were a problem in the first game and they continued to be a problem tonight.

The Giants gave up big kick returns to the Bengals, one of which very nearly went the distance for a touchdown. That 77-yard return, in fact, resulted in a concussion for kicker Graham Gano. The Giants’ own return units didn’t get much done, as a penalty backed the offense up, and C.J. Board fumbled the ball, setting the Bengals up for a touchdown.

The Giants’ general execution was, for the most part, sloppy on special teams. Coverage teams weren’t disciplined in their lane integrity and their blockers didn’t execute well enough.

There was one bright spot, however, in punter Jamie Gillan. Gillan has proven to be an excellent directional punter with great control to get the ball to stop and not take favorable bounces for the receiving team. Even better, Gillan immediately stepped in and proved to be a capable kicker after Gano went down with a concussion.

Fourth down - Will the Giants see any starters?

The Giants played their starters in each of the first two preseason games, while neither the New England Patriots nor the Cincinnati Bengals played their starters. So while the Giants might have had two opportunities to see how they measure up against two playoff teams, those chances never materialized on the field.

Stepping back, this appears to be one of the problems with the NFL’s decision to turn the fourth preseason game into a regular season game. There used to be an established rhythm to preseason games and teams could count on having a certain level of competition as a measuring stick at certain times.

Now, some teams are resting starters through the whole preseason, other teams are giving their starters work.

That can make evaluating the team tricky, particularly for those of us on the outside who might not know what the coaches are looking for in a particular situation. While we can look at execution, it can be hard to determine what is due to the level of competition or if something would have happened regardless of who the opponent was.

Hopefully, the Giants will get to see something of the New York Jets starting offense and the Giants can measure their starters against another team’s first-teamers — even if it is the Jets.

Honorable mention: Davis Webb and Alex Bachman

Despite playing with a center who had never played center before, Webb engineered two scoring drives and finished the game 22 of 27 for 204 yards and 2 touchdowns. Webb had to deal with scatter-shot snaps and was consistently accurate, even on the move.

Bachman might be the player of the game, catching 11 of 14 targets for 122 yards and two touchdowns — and a big special teams tackle. We don’t know how the Giants’ receiving depth chart shakes out, but it’s suddenly an interesting conversation.