The Giants wrap up their preseason schedule today (7:30 p.m., NBC/NFL Network) with a trip to New England to face the Patriots.
And while head coach Tom Coughlin ultimately wants his banged-up team to simply end the exhibition season as healthy as possible, he knows there’s still work to do.
The Patriots may not play any of their regulars, but for a Giants team that has looked bad for most of its three prior games, they need as many reps as possible to find a groove and jell. With that in mind, here are three things to watch for:
1. Offensively inept
The starters will play as many as 12-15 snaps against the Patriots, which is especially important for the offense considering how bad it has looked so far. Big Blue has only scored two touchdowns with its first unit and is 0-of-7 in the red zone, meaning the No. 1s aren’t getting it done. The first-team defense isn’t without culpability either, as the pass rush has been nonexistent and opposing quarterbacks have had far too much time to punish an already suspect secondary that is now without its best playmaker.
2. Safety dance
Safety Stevie Brown was easily the Giants’ savior last season during his breakout Pro Bowl campaign. With him going down to an ACL tear, his instincts and ball-hawking skills will be sorely missed.
But as life in the NFL dictates, the league waits for no man. That means the Giants will need to find out quickly which player, or players, can fill Brown’s void. Ryan Mundy will get the first crack at it, as the first-year Giant has made it a niche in replacing valuable players in the secondary. Mundy recently came over from Pittsburgh, where he was often called into duty as the backup to the injury-prone Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark.
If Mundy can’t pick up the slack, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will have to mix and match from a variety of options, including moving cornerbacks Aaron Ross or Terrell Thomas, who is coming off his own ACL maladies, or young players like Tyler Sash and rookie Cooper Taylor. Will Hill would’ve been a great fill-in for Brown but he’ll begin his four-game suspension for a banned substance once the preseason ends.
3. On the line
So much has been written about the trials and tribulations of the reshuffled offensive line, but when quarterbacks are getting battered, rushing lanes aren’t staying open very long and drives aren’t being sustained — particularly in the red zone or in short yardage — eyes will be cast on the fateful five.
James Brewer is the next to help patch up the line, as Jim Cordle failed his audition at starting center last week. Brewer will take Kevin Boothe’s spot at right guard, while Boothe slides into the spot now vacated by Cordle. Rookie first-round pick Justin Pugh will remain at the right tackle spot while usual starter David Diehl (out up to six weeks) recovers from right thumb surgery. Customary starting center David Baas (sprained knee) would definitely shore up the offensive line, but he’s week-to-week. So, for the time being, the lightly used guys will just have to step up to the challenge.
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.