We have just one more preseason game left before things start to get much, much more serious.
And in a preseason tradition, the New York Giants will meet the New York Jets in the third preseason game. This game, which has affectionately been called “The Snoopy Bowl” is where the intra-city rivalry between the Giants and Jets usually plays out. This game, which has largely been played by back-ups, is a low-stakes exhibition game that carries a bit more meaning due to the dueling fanbases.
But just because this game doesn’t count, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter. The final preseason game is often the most important preseason game for a significant chunk of the 90-man roster. This is the last chance for the players on the roster bubble to make a push and prove to the team that they belong.
So what should we be watching for in the final preseason game?
Who plays, when, and how much?
This has been one of our primary focus points throughout the preseason, and for good reason. The Giants’ front office has done a lot of work to improve the quality and overall depth of the roster over the 2022 iteration. That’s obviously a good thing, but it’s also made for a very competitive camp at several positions.
So we’re looking to see which running backs, wide receivers (and slot receivers), and defensive backs get on the field first.
The expectation here is that all of the rookies will play, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see players like Evan Neal or Jason Pinnock start the game as well. However, which of the young running backs gets on the field first, or which slot corner starts the game — or finishes it — could tell us a great deal about the Giants’ views regarding the roster.
Speaking of the slot, of particular interest is the slot receiver position. Parris Campbell is the starter and Jalin Hyatt primarily played out of the slot in college. But what about the veteran trio of Sterling Shepard, Cole Beasley, and Jamison Crowder? Of the three, Crowder’s path to the roster seems the toughest after rookie running back Eric Gray seized the starting punt return job. It seems hard to believe that Shepard could be an ex-Giant, but injuries are a looming question after two very significant lower-body injuries the last two years.
It’s also worth noting that the Jets’ wide receiving corps has grown thin of late, particularly after the surprise retirement of Corey Davis. They could move to pick up any Giants receivers who play well but don’t make the final squad.
What kind of offense will the Giants run?
I expect a vanilla offense from the Giants. And not even fancy French vanilla — the generic store brand vanilla. So that will likely mean plenty of A and B-gap runs, lots of play-action, some roll-outs, slants, crossing routes, and levels concepts. In other words, the basics of their offense as we’ve come to know it.
But while Mike Kafka and Brian Daboll will do their best to hid the wrinkles in their scheme, the personnel groupings they use could be telling. In particular, I’m looking to see just how much 12-personnel the Giants run as opposed to 11-personnel. If the Giants have multiple tight ends on the field fairly often, that could be a clue that the Giants are looking at keeping four tight ends.
The numbers game at the offensive skill position groups is going to be tough to balance during cut-downs. It’s possible the team could be looking at Darren Waller and Lawrence Cager as receiving weapons first, which would allow them to potentially carry just five receivers or three running backs.
Will any UDFAs force the Giants’ hand?
It seems like there’s one every year. Last year Tomon Fox and Ryder Anderson made the Giants’ roster as undrafted rookies. Obviously, Victor Cruz is the all-time poster boy for UDFA success stories, but even players like Henry Hynoski, Mark Herzlich, and Spencer Paysinger played roles in a good Giants team.
So will any of the Giants’ 2023 UDFAs force their way onto the roster?
Of the players Giants’ fans voted on, Tommy DeVito has definitely looked the best, and Jashaun Corbin (granted, a 2022 UDFA) has had impressive moments as well.
Bryce Ford-Wheaton fills a niche for the Giants as a big wide receiver with rare athletic traits. He’s had issues consistently catching the football (which is kinda important for wide-outs), but he’s a physical blocker and GM Joe Schoen gave him a shout-out for his upside on special teams. That might not be as impressive as Tre Hawkins III storming onto the scene and seizing a starting (or “starting”) job as a sixth-round rookie. But, it’s not nothing.
A good performance by Ford-Wheaton could force the Giants to keep him on the roster rather than expose him to the waiver wire.
How does the defense play?
The Giants' starting and key reserve defenders have played well through the first two games of the preseason. So far they've allowed just three points and have forced a turnover, a turnover on downs, and a three-and-out.
But that was against the Lions' backups and a Panthers team that is just beginning it's rebuild. They should get a much stiffer test this game.
Jets head coach Robert Saleh confirmed that he'll be playing the Jets' starting offense, featuring Aaron Rodgers, for "a few" series. In particular, he said that he wants his starting offense to go through the transition of coming off the field, taking adjustments, and implementing them on the next series.
I’m not expecting to see Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, Kayvon Thibodeaux, Azeez Ojulari, Bobby Okereke, Adoree Jackson, or Xaver McKinney out there to counter the Jets’ starting offense. However, I am expecting to see Deonte Banks, Tre Hawkins III, Jordon Riley, and Micah McFadden.
Jason Pinnock and Cor’Dale Flott dealt with injuries this past week and could be held out of the game.
They’re all young players, but the Giants will be relying on them throughout the year. Hawkins and Banks, in particular, could be key players in the Giants’ defense. The chance to go against against a quarterback who was an MVP in 2020 and 2021 and the reigning offensive rookie of the year could be invaluable to their development.
If we’re starting each one of these by watching who plays and who doesn’t, it’s right to end on hoping for no injuries for either team.
Coaches use preseason games to evaluate their roster and work on aspects of their offense and defense in the kind of live game situations that are impossible to replicate in practice. But the top goal of the preseason has to be to escape without attrition taking hold. There will be losses throughout the season — that’s almost unavoidable. But those losses are much more impactful if your depth is already undermined by losses suffered in camp and the preseason. Losing a player who you were counting on to be a key role player or valuable depth is bad in and of itself, but it can also leave your roster dangerously thin if a starter has to leave the field during the season.
Getting players ready means exposing them to the risk of injury, and that means this time of year is delicate balancing act. Coaches need to do what is necessary to get players ready to play regular season football, but also make sure they’re healthy for when the games count.
So we’re obviously watching to see who plays, when, how much, and how well. All of that is useful information as we get ready for final cutdowns and then Week 1. But having everybody healthy is most important, from both a strategic perspective and a human one.
So yeah, no injuries!