After winning his second Super Bowl in five seasons with the New York Giants, head coach Tom Coughlin kicked off the defense of his team’s most recent world championship by returning to the place where he first made a name for himself as an NFL head coach, as the Giants lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars 32-31 in the teams’ preseason opener on Friday night.
As with all preseason games however, the final outcome didn’t really matter as much as the players’ health and seeing how they performed. On that front, here is what the Giants’ coaching staff probably took note of the most:
In his first action for the Giants against another opponent, rookie RB David Wilson showed why he was valued so highly as a first-round draft pick. He was already known at Virginia Tech as a speedy back with great moves and an ability to wreak havoc on opposing coverage teams, but he turned into a triple threat against the Jaguars by adding a couple of double digit receiving gains (of 10 and 16 yards) out of the backfield. In all, Wilson had seven carries for a team-high 43 yards, on the strength of a couple of impressive runs of 26 and 17 yards. He also returned a pair of kickoffs for 76 yards (for 38-yard average), including a 48-yard return that helped his team answer with its first points (on a field goal) right after the Jaguars took a 7-0 lead on their first drive. If RB Ahmad Bradshaw (we’ll discuss him further down) can’t stay healthy and productive, Wilson is talented and hungry enough, even as a rookie, to supplant Bradshaw as the starting back (even if Coughlin has a history of sticking making sure newcomers come prove themselves again and again before they move ahead of once-proven veterans on the depth chart).
Ex-Dallas Cowboys TE Martellus Bennett became the frontrunner (for now) to be the next in line to provide what ex-Giants Kevin Boss and Jake Ballard did in the same role for New York’s passing game. Bennett caught three passes for 27 yards, including a nice leaping grab, while reaching back, on a 12-yard touchdown catch that ga ve the Giants a 17-7 lead.
WR Reuben Randle made sure Wilson wasn’t the only rookie pick who impressed in his first game as a Giant, as the second-round pick, targeted three times, hauled in a 21-yard reception and a six-yard touchdown catch.
The Giants recorded six sacks, two by New jersey native DT Dwayne Hendricks, one by LB Adrian Tracy, and one each by a trio of rookies – DE’s Craig Marshall and Matt Broha, and CB Jayron Hosley (which came on a blitz, only seconds before he made a huge mistake he made on special teams).
A couple of younger, undrafted players led the Giants in bringing down ball carriers, as LB Spencer Paysinger recorded a team-high six tackles (five solo) and FS Will Hill was right behind him with five tackles (all solo).
Though catching just one ball while being targeted three times in limited action, WR Victor Cruz continued to demonstrate the dangerous big-play ability that he debuted in his breakout season last year, turning a routine eight-yard grab in the left slot, before shaking defenders while moving across the field, and eventually up the right side for an electrifying 28-yard gain to set up the Giants’ first points of the game on 34-yard field goal by K Lawrence Tynes .
RB D.J. Ware turned in a solid performance with 30 rushing yards on six carries, including a 16-yard scamper replete with some great, tackler-shedding stutter-step moves.
P Steve Weatherford booted six punts for a decent, but not great average of 43.3 yards. However, he pinned the Jaguars at their own 11-yard line on his first attempt, then punted to the Jacksonville 19-yard line on a 42-yard boot, before booming the ball for 55 and 48 yards on his next two punts. Weatherford then put the ball at the Jaguars’ 10-yard line on a kick that was muffed to set up the Giants’ final score, before hitting his last punt for a solid 45 yards.
Backup QB David Carr was 6-for-10 for 48 yards and two touchdown passes, while looking sharp. Of course, he has the NFL’s reigning iron man in front of him, but in the very unlikely event he’s called upon for some action that counts this year, the 11-year veteran once again showed that he’s a very capable backup… Third-string QB Ryan Perilloux also had a solid night finishing the game for New York with a 6-for-7 night, throwing or 59 yards and a touchdown pass, even if he fell just short of getting the Giants in position for a potential game-winning field goal in the final seconds.
A little-known, undrafted rookie wide receiver from UMass, born in New Jersey, had a nice night turning some heads a couple of times for the Giants in August. Where have we heard that before? Okay, so it was far from Cruz’s terrific three-touchdown performance against the New York Jets in the 2010 preseason, but fellow UMass graduate WR Julian Talley was targeted only twice, yet he made a pair of receptions for double-digit yardage (10 and 12 yards).
Playing the first quarter only, starting QB Eli Manning looked like his regular Super Bowl MVP self at times, completing consecutive passes to Bennett (for 11 yards, to convert a third-and-three) and WR Ramses Barden (for 14 yards) on consecutive plays, and later connecting with WR Victor Cruz on the aforementioned 28-yard completion, but he was also inaccurate other times, to finish a pedestrian 4-for-8, despite throwing for 60 yards in two series of work.
Speaking of Barden, the small-school college star who enters the fourth year of an injury-plagued career with just 15 career catches, showed a brief flash of what the Giants hoped he’d be for them, with a nice cut and catch on the 14-yard reception from Manning, but he otherwise had trouble getting open other times Manning looked his way.
Back to Bradshaw , the Giants’ top back for the moment twice had short first and second down runs, to finish with a modest twelve yards on four carries, all on New York’s opening drive, before adding a seven-yard reception out of the backfield on the Giants’ next possession.
During Jacksonville’s first possession, last year’s first-round pick CB Prince Amukamara looked as alarmingly lost on pass coverage as he did at the start of his career coming back from a six-week absence with a foot injury, letting WR Mike Thomas roam free for a 29-yard gain up the left side to the Giants’ 12-yard line, before letting WR Cecil Shorts III beat him on a three-yard touchdown catch to the same side, just three plays later. On the first play of the Jaguars’ next possession however, Amukamara exacted some revenge by stripping Shorts III after a 10-yard reception, which led to a fumble recovery by DE Justin Tuck. That play resulted in the Giants’ first lead of the night, on New York’s next drive.
The first-team defense looked terrible, getting burned by both the run and the pass on the Jaguars’ opening possession of the game. QB Blaine Gabbert went 4-for-7 for 51 yards and RB Rashad Jennings ran wild for 38 yards on six carries to account for a 13-play, 89-yard drive that ended with a three-yard touchdown throw by Gabbert that gave Jacksonville a 7-0 lead.
While Hosley was mentioned in a positive regard above for his sack, and although he returned three punts for 34 yards, including a 20-yard return, he made the same typical rookie mistake that second-year WR Jerrel Jernigan later made in the fourth quarter. Just thirteen seconds after his second-quarter sack, Hosley dropped back and let a punt glance off of his right shoulder, to let the Jaguars then throw a short touchdown pass and trim the Giants’ lead to 24-14 just before halftime. Meanwhile, Jernigan’s similar muff of a punt midway through the final period, allowed the Jaguars to get to within 31-24 on a field goal with 7:19 left in the game. Take either one of those two costly mistakes away, and New York likely wins the game. Barely tolerable in the preseason, those types of miscues during the regular season can cost division titles or playoff spots, and have been known to turn Coughlin’s face some of the deepest shades of red, with frustration.