Tom Coughlin strikes rare positive tone after Giants preseason opener

Tom Coughlin did not sound enthusiastic about the performance of Spencer Paysinger and his new linebackers unit. Credit: Getty Images
Tom Coughlin did not sound enthusiastic about the performance of Spencer Paysinger and his new linebackers unit.
Credit: Getty Images

Giants head coach Tom Coughlin rarely seems satisfied, whether it’s a win in the preseason or regular season, but following Saturday night’s 18-13 win over the Steelers in the opening game of the exhibition portion of the season, the coach said there was plenty to like.

Coughlin sounded upbeat and optimistic during his Sunday conference call, knowing Big Blue did some things right in a preseason game that “had a lot of different scenarios” — including an undermanned defense that made things uncomfortable most of the night for the Steelers’ offense, highlighted by a great showing from rookie third-round pick, defensive end Demontre Moore.

The Texas A&M product blocked a punt and had four tackles — one for a loss — one quarterback hit and a couple of pressures. He also disrupted short passes to the running backs in the flat.

Coughlin gave about as much praise as he’d ever allow himself in saying, “Moore obviously was a problem for Pittsburgh. He keeps coming and he likes it.”

Big Blue’s faithful certainly liked what it saw with their starters, despite only playing two series. But during that time, quarterback Eli Manning connected with wideout Victor Cruz on a 57-yard touchdown — the first reception of his preseason — and the defense corralled Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during his brief stint, holding him to 4-of-8 passing for 36 yards and one sack.

Coughlin was particularly happy with the way the defense looked, despite missing defensive ends Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul — both of whom are suffering through varying degrees of back ailments.

“We didn’t give up a touchdown so somebody was doing a good job in there,” Coughlin said, adding he expects to at least have Tuck for tomorrow’s practice.

All wasn’t rosy for the head coach, however, as the offense failed to run the ball successfully — something that has been a problem for a couple of seasons now – as well as the patchwork offensive line’s inability to handle the Steelers’ intricate blitzing schemes.

The Giants offensive line was without right guard Chris Snee and backup James Brewer, which meant they were forced to start third-stringer Brandon Mosley, who didn’t necessarily have an awful game, but it was obvious from the start the Giants lacked cohesion.

“There’s a fine line between outstanding execution and almost,” said Coughlin when asked about the overall implementation of the game plan.

And when asked about the performance of the new-look linebacker corps, Coughlin didn’t sound too overwhelmed.

“I think there were flashes, [but] I don’t know if there’s any one particular individual that made enough plays or a whole lot of plays in order for me to [mention],” said Coughlin. “We were steady. … We’re analyzing the linebacker position the entire preseason, so we can get the right people in the right spots.”

Spencer Paysinger, who has risen from undrafted free agent just a couple of years ago to actually being a leading candidate to start on the weakside, led all Giants linebackers with five tackles, with nobody else having more than Dan Connor’s three.

Coughlin noted the Giants will continue to “experiment” and tinker with a rotation that has seven candidates for the three starting spots, as well as specialty packages like nickel (five defensive backs and two linebackers), during training camp.

The opener featured Mark Herzlich as the starting middle linebacker, with Keith Rivers and Paysinger on the outside. In the nickel defense, Herzlich and Rivers came off the field and Jacquian Williams came on. Aaron Curry and Connor played with the second team and Kyle Bosworth played mostly with the third.

Despite the mixing and matching, guys feeling each other out, a few notable blown assignments and turnovers, the Giants still gave Coughlin plenty to be excited about heading into the third week of camp.

Big Blue notes … 

» Wideout Kris Adams underwent surgery on Sunday following a gruesome left ankle fracture.

» Rookie first-round pick Justin Pugh (concussion) has been cleared to return to practice.

» Tuck (back) didn’t play on Saturday night, but has also been cleared to practice.

» Offensive lineman James Brewer and running back Ryan Torain, both concussions, are close to being cleared to return.

» Guard Chris DeGeare had X-rays on his ankle following, results were negative. He did suffer an MCL injury, too, but Coughlin is still awaiting word.

» The defensive rotation was pretty deep, as defensive tackle Marvin Austin got the most snaps (33), which added up to 50 percent of the time. Moore was right behind at 29 snaps, while linebacker Jacquian Williams led his unit with 28.

Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.


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