The Giants won the battle, Saturday night, by defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars in their preseason home opener, but are starting to lose the war before the real season even begins.
Big Blue’s 22-12 victory featured a few good things – many more than their lackluster defeat in Cincinnati last week. Giants’ quarterbacks attempted 49 passes, while only being sacked once. The injury-depleted defense allowed just 2.4 yards per carry, and no touchdowns. And special teams was solid all night in coverage and putting points on the board, as kicker Josh Brown notched field goals of 43, 51, and 53 yards.
Not everything went according to plan, though, as there were still lapses in execution and the injury bug kept nipping at Big Blue.
Head coach Tom Coughlin acknowledged that things were better than the Cincinnati game, but offered there’s still room to grow ahead of Saturday’s tilt with the co-tenant Jets.
“We did get a little bit better, [but] we’re going to have to get a lot better,” reasoned Coughlin, via conference call.
The offense looked crisper than the previous week, but still stalled when it mattered most – scoring points. The starters only tallied three points in their 21-play, four series of work, and gained just 76 yards.
Of all the starters, Coughlin liked the performance of the offensive line the best, and said he thinks the extra time on the field is beginning to gel the unit. They’ll need to with the aggressive Jets next on the docket. Jets’ head coach Todd Bowles is known for blitzing and creating pressure from all different levels, so it was good to see Big Blue’s offensive line play as well as it did.
“I think we’re starting to get some cohesion. We had them play a little bit longer than the rest [of the starters],” said Coughlin. “After watching the tape, I think they played well for the most part.”
The biggest key for the Giants’ offensive line is that they escaped unscathed. The same can’t be said for the rest of the team.
Health, not the new-look defense or an offensive line that’s still trying to find its way, will ultimately be the team’s downfall if they can’t find a way to keep bodies out of the trainer’s room. General manager Jerry Reese deemed this a good, deep roster early in training camp, but now his work is being put to the test. New York sat 14 players due to injury – including five starters. The war of attrition is starting to take its toll, and the Giants are only halfway through the exhibition campaign.
The more bodies that are added to the injury report, the harder it’ll be for Big Blue to have competitive practices or actually see what they have to work on when they watch post-game film. The in-game injuries included reserve linebackers Mark Herzlich (concussion) and Tony Johnson (knee sprain), and safeties Justin Currie (broken ankle) and Bennett Jackson (torn ACL). None of the aforementioned returned to the game.
The injuries to the safeties could be most alarming, as the Giants entered the game with only five healthy bodies at the position. Second-round draft choice Landon Collins (knee), Nat Berhe (calf), and Cooper Taylor (toe) all sat. All three plan on returning to practice this week, Coughlin noted. But the losses of Currie and Jackson could hurt long-term, as the rookie free agent Currie was a budding special-teams ace, while Jackson, who switched this spring from corner to safety, was penciled in as a starter and was having a good camp. Both are lost for the season.
The biggest injury was to starting linebacker Jon Beason, who was forced out of the game with a knee sprain. Coughlin thinks he’ll ultimately be fine, although he didn’t provide a timetable for his return.
“It could be week to week ... But sometimes in these cases it’s longer than you think,” Coughlin reasoned.
But whether Beason returns quickly or not, it can’t be lost on the Giants that their starting middle linebacker has been injury prone. He missed 12 games last season, so they’ll undoubtedly pump the breaks on any expectations of him playing in the Jets game.
“We took some hits last night and have some injuries. It’s amazing with the way it [injuries] is going,” Coughlin said. “Hopefully, we’ll get a couple of guys back to practice this week that weren’t able to play.”
Linebacker Jameel McClain was next in line after Beason, as he did much of last season, so for him it just means he has to stay healthy himself and be there when his name is called. McClain didn’t play last week in Cincinnati due to a neck injury, but he finally got on the field against the Jaguars. He spouted Coughlin’s “next man up” mantra when asked about the mounting injuries.
“You just keep playing, that’s the name of the game. We have them [injuries], and it’s unfortunate. You never want to see guys go down, but that’s football. It’s the next man up, man, always. 24/7,” McClain said, adding he still thinks the Giants have enough depth to weather the storm. “Guys stepped up [last night]. And guys will step into place for guys who got hurt. And the guys who got hurt, most will return. We’ll get ourselves right and come back a stronger team when we play next.”
Up next is the third preseason game, also known as the dress rehearsal, when starters play well into the third quarter. The Jets’ scheme will offer a unique test and provide Coughlin a good sample size to see if he has enough healthy bodies and roster depth as they creep towards the season opener in Dallas.