The appearance of Tom Coughlin's regular-season game face this week was not the result of tomorrow night's game against the Jets, but his demand that the Giants improve after a sloppy performance in their preseason opener.
The Giants' head coach was displeased with many facets of his team in a 32-31 loss to the Jaguars in Jacksonville. So when asked what goals or improvements he had set for the Week 2 meeting with the Jets, Coughlin had a lengthy list.
"There were 10 of them at the beginning of the week," Coughlin said. "There probably could have been 12 or 14. The physical nature of the run and stop the run certainly is one right off the bat. The penalty issue, which was ridiculous. Obviously, ball security in the special teams area because that's been an area… field position, field position lectures, the special teams' big plays and what it does for a team, which we've been lacking in the return game; all those things have been a part of our objectives all along. We had a nice kickoff return the other night, but we put two balls on the ground. We need to shore that up real fast."
Based on the Giants' debut performance, those are worthwhile targets. The Giants surrendered 156 rushing yards and 5.0 yards a carry. The fact that many of them were gained by reserve runners against backup defenders failed to mollify the coach – or many players, who expressed their displeasure with those numbers.
"The test will be there come Saturday night," Coughlin said. "So it's good that they're concerned about that. That's a major objective of ours, on both sides of the ball."
Penalties are always a Coughlin pet peeve, so his anger was provoked when the Giants were flagged for 11 of them in Jacksonville.
Two of the more glaring errors were muffed punt returns by rookie Jayron Hosley and Jerrel Jernigan. Coughlin hasn't said if they'll get another opportunity to return punts tomorrow.
"Well, we'll see," Coughlin said. "One issue will not make the total judgment in that regard. Hosley has looked pretty good this week in practice."
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect to the game last week was the performance of the starting offense, which moved the ball well and scored the first 10 points of what became a 24-7 lead (the dissipation of that advantage is another sore subject with Coughlin). Eli Manning and the offense and the rest of the first teamers are looking to build on that beginning.
"I thought last week in our first game, we did things well," said Manning, who completed four of eight passes for 60 yards. "Everybody knew their assignments, so we could be a little bit sharper in our technique, and trying to do things perfectly. So, I think that's what we're looking for now. I think there's a lot of growth in the young players. I think as a young player, you know what the plays are, you know what your assignments are, what you're supposed to be doing. You don't always do the right thing at the right time. So, it's really just learning how you have to prepare, how you have to study for every single situation that might come up. I think that, hopefully, guys understand that and are working hard, and knowing the game plan, knowing all of your assignments, and the different options that you might have to use in a game."
As always, the players fielded questions about whether this is a more intense preseason game because the opponent is the Jets. The queries are particularly timely this week, given that last Dec. 24, the Giants defeated the Jets, 29-14, the first victory in a six-game winning streak that ended with their triumph in Super Bowl XLVI. The Jets were the home team in that game and will be again tomorrow night.
"I think we're just looking forward to playing a good team," Manning said. "Offensively, we know we're going to go against a good defense. They've got good players, and they do a good scheme. So, we're going to be tested and knowing our rules and our assignments, and making sure we know exactly what's going on. Know all of our responsibilities, and see if we can go and be effective against a top-quality defense.
"Usually we play them in the third game, but we're playing them in the second now. Obviously, you still have a few more preseason games to go. The second one, you'll play a little bit more extended time with the starters. We're also looking forward to that. We're just looking forward to being in our own stadium and playing a game."
"They always have a great package on defense," running back Ahmad Bradshaw said. "They run a bit of a 3-4, so it's going to be a good test for our offense and our running backs to get used to."
Wide receiver Victor Cruz has twice torched the Jets, scoring three touchdowns in the preseason game two years ago and on a 99-yard catch and run that gave the Giants a lead they never relinquished last December.
"Every time you play the Jets, they're our hometown rivals and we share the stadium, so it's always going to be an electric game," Cruz said. "All the fans are going to make it electric. If we don't feel so on the field, the fans are going to make you feel like it's a big time game. It's definitely going to have some jitters and some anxiety, like it's a season opener or something like that, but it's going to be a good test for us. It's going to be a good test from us offensively and defensively just to see where we stand as a team."
As he's let them know all week, Coughlin expects them to stand tall.
*The Giants and Jets will square off for the 44th consecutive preseason since the series began in 1969. The Jets won last year's game, 17-3. In 2010, the Giants won the first played in MetLife Stadium, 31-16, when then rookie receiver Victor Cruz scored three touchdowns. The Giants trail in the preseason series, 23-19-1, with the tie coming in 1972.