The Giants lost their preseason opener to the Jaguars, 32-21, but that’s beside the point. During the exhibition season, wins and losses aren’t as important as staying healthy and execution. Thankfully for banged-up Big Blue the former was maintained, but unfortunately for the defending world champs, the latter was severely lacking.
Head coach Tom Coughlin was dismayed at how they lost. The Giants squandered leads of 17 points in the second quarter and 10 points in the fourth — largely due to muffing two punt returns.
“It was very disappointing to come here and be up 24-7 and lose the game,” Coughlin said. “We have a lot to learn from this and a lot to improve upon.”
Coughlin continued, adding it was almost a blessing to have seen the warts this early so they have time to correct things.
“We are under no illusions as to the amount of improvement we need,” Coughlin said. “But we got enough good things on tape to use as teaching and coaching aids. We can correct things and that is really what these games are all about.”
WHAT WE LEARNED:
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1. Depth could be an issue
The starters didn’t play much, as Eli Manning and Co. only played two series. Backup David Carr had a stellar game (6-of-10 for 48 yards, two touchdowns and a 111.7 rating), as he mixed in with a scattering of the starters, but when the Giants went deeper to its bench trouble began. The reserves eventually squandered two different leads. As Coughlin noted, his main concern was the lack of execution from the second and third units. The backups also lost two fumbles which accounted for 10 points and allowed Jaguars third-string quarterback Jordan Palmer to lead Jacksonville on the game-winning drive, culminating in the go-ahead two-point conversion. The backups need to improve and step up because the Giants are only as good as their weakest link.
2. Return game could be home runs or strikeouts
The Giants believe they have the most talented and explosive group of returners since Coughlin took over nine years ago, as second-year veteran Jerrel Jernigan and speedy rookies David Wilson and Jayron Hosley have boom or bust capabilities. Jernigan had a nifty 10-yard return, Wilson had a 48-yard return amongst his two kickoffs and Hosley averaged 11.3 yards on his three punt returns, but Big Blue was also reminded that speed and elusiveness mean nothing if you can’t hold onto the ball.
Two of the most important plays of the game were muffed punt returns by Hosley in the second quarter and Jernigan in the fourth. The Jaguars recovered both balls and turned them into 10 points and erased their 17-point deficit en route to the win.
“The number one thing is ball security as a punt returner,” said Coughlin. “The first thing you have to do is catch the ball.”
3. So far, so good with maligned rushing game
Wilson, the team’s first-round pick from Virginia Tech, had an impressive debut. He led the team with 43 rushing yards on seven carries, including a 26-yarder. Oft-forgotten D.J. Ware added 30 yards on five carries and a touchdown. Starter Ahmad Bradshaw didn’t do much, tallying just 12 yards on four carries, but the Giants already know what they have with him. If the rushing game jells and looks as good in the regular season as they did in Jacksonville, they can lighten the load for Manning.
4. Big black and blue
We learned that the Giants need to mend themselves and not have a repeat of last year’s training camp when as many as eight players went down for the season. The Giants didn’t dress 14 players because of injuries: wide receivers Domenik Hixon (hamstring) and David Douglas (quad), linebackers Michael Boley (hamstring), Jacquian Williams (hip) and Jake Muasau (hamstring), cornerback Terrell Thomas (knee), tackle Will Beatty (back), running back Da’Rel Scott (thigh), defensive tackle Rocky Bernard (knee) and defensive end Justin Trattou (ankle). In addition to those bodies, four players are still on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) and haven’t even practiced yet: wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (foot), defensive tackle Chris Canty (knee), tight end Travis Beckum (knee) and linebacker Clint Sintim (knee). Big Blue will need to get everyone healthy to get a better gauge of their strengths and weaknesses.
5. Still dominant pass rush
The Giants pass rush definitely came to play, as they recorded six sacks of three different Jaguar quarterbacks. Defensive tackle Dwayne Hendricks led the way with two and there was one each by Hosley, defensive end Adrian Tracy, defensive end Matt Broha and defensive tackle Linval Joseph. It’s a good sign when none of the Giants’ star pass rushers (Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora) were needed to dominate, as the young veterans and backups picked up the slack.
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.