1. Quarterback has been the most impressive position group in the preseason games.
John Schmeelk: Fact – Aside from Alex Tanney’s interception in the red zone and Daniel Jones’ two fumbles, Giants quarterbacks have been excellent so far in the preseason. The passing game has been efficient and explosive. The other group I considered here were the wide receivers. They’ve had very few, if any, drops and from the top of the depth chart to the bottom have done a really nice job of getting open. There is an exciting battle not just for the second and third receiver spots next to Sterling Shepard during Golden Tate’s suspension, but also for the final couple on the final 53. It bodes well for the regular season.
Dan Salomone: Fiction – They have to throw the ball to someone, right? How about the wide receivers? With no Sterling Shepard, with no Corey Coleman, with no Darius Slayton, this “bunch of tough guys” stepped up to the occasion. Coach Pat Shurmur said it’s going to take a village, and right now the residents are the likes of Bennie Fowler, TJ Jones, Cody Latimer and Russell Shepard. And they’ve all risen to the occasion. “That crew of receivers are all very smart, they are very veteran in a lot of ways and I like them and trust them,” Shurmur said after the second preseason game. “Really, the crux of it all, I think they are a bunch of tough guys. They play a fancy position, but I think they are a bunch of tough guys. I think that wins the day, too.”
Lance Medow: Fact – All four quarterbacks have played in both preseason games and they’ve all been productive, combining for six touchdowns and just one interception while completing 75% of their passes. Another indicator of how impressive the group has been is in each contest three of the four signal callers posted a passer rating of at least 115.3. Against the Jets, Daniel Jones, Alex Tanney and Kyle Lauletta helped guide the team on four scoring drives, and in the second contest against the Bears, they one-upped that total with five thanks to Eli Manning leading the first team to a touchdown on the opening drive. The signal callers have been one of the most consistent groups this preseason.
2. Pass rush is the main thing you will be looking for in the third preseason game when starters typically play the longest.
Schmeelk: Fact – As encouraging as some aspects of the preseason have been, the pass rush still raises the most questions. The Giants did have three sacks in their second preseason game, but two were the result of the quarterback running himself into trouble, rather than the pass rush quickly penetrating the pocket. Markus Golden’s sack was the exception. The Bears tried to block him with a tight end off a play-action pass, and Golden moved him aside with his strength before getting to the quarterback quickly. The Giants need to see more of their players winning one-on-one in straight pass situations against offensive linemen if they want a more consistent pass rush this season.
Salomone: Fiction – Let’s go the opposite side and say the Giants’ offensive line, particularly in run blocking. The results were up and down in the first two preseason games, and there should be ample opportunity in the third for the starting five to get lathered up and find a groove. If they can do it without Saquon Barkley, the NFL’s reigning yards from scrimmage leader, even better.
Medow: Fact – The Giants had just 30 sacks in 2018, tied with the Patriots for second lowest in the NFL. Given that statistic and the fact that the player who led the team in that category last season (Olivier Vernon – 7) is no longer on the roster, it’s fair to say that’s one area of the team that is a bit of an unknown. While the Giants have recorded five sacks combined in the first two preseason games, those didn’t come against an opposing first team offensive line. That’s more of a reason why I’ll be looking to see how effective the pass rush is against the Bengals, assuming Cincinnati actually plays its starters. In fairness, it’s not just about the total sacks but also the ability for the defensive front to consistently get after the opposing quarterback by applying pressure.
3. The player to watch with increased snaps this week is rookie defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence.
Schmeelk: Fact – Lawrence got 14 defensive snaps last week (and three more on special teams), 25% of the team’s snaps on that side of the ball, an increase from six the week prior. He was relatively quiet again, though he showed off his strength a couple of times by pushing the interior offensive line backwards. It would be nice to see a splash play from him, whether in the run or the pass game. He hasn’t had many one-on-one pass rush opportunities, something I would like to see him get against the Bengals.
My honorable mention here is Lorenzo Carter. He played only 15 defensive snaps last week, and while he did flash a smooth looking inside spin, he never got particularly close to the quarterback. The Giants need him to generate consistent pressure this year, and it would inspire confidence to see it in the preseason before the Giants start playing real games in September. This may be his last opportunity.
Salomone: Fact – The first-round pick said the limited number of snaps has bothered him, but Thursday night should be his heaviest workload until the regular season. Basic logic says that the more you ram a 340-pound man into an offensive line, it is bound to wear down over the course of a game or, in this case, perhaps a half. It’s all about the interior pass rush.
Medow: Fiction – I’ll stay on the defensive side of the ball but turn my attention to the linebackers, specifically Lorenzo Carter. A third-round pick in 2018, the former Georgia standout showed some flashes in the second half of his rookie season but this year even more will be thrown on his plate as he takes on a starting role and looks to help fill the void left behind by Olivier Vernon. Carter has been active in the first two preseason games but depending on how long the starters play this week, he could have a great opportunity to showcase his skillset against a formidable opponent.
4. Wide receiver TJ Jones has been the biggest surprise of camp.
Schmeelk: FACT SLAM – I never expect much from guys that are late arrivals to training camp. Too often, those players are behind in the playbook and never catch up to the point where they can compete with the players that had been working in the offense since the spring. TJ Jones has bucked that trend, likely due to his NFL experience, and has looked no different than the other veterans that have been here dating back to last season: Cody Latimer, Russell Shepard and Bennie Fowler. He is smaller than those players, but he is also quicker and more elusive in and out of his breaks. He is a nice complement and can play a role similar to Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate.
My two honorable mentions here are Ryan Connelly and Kyle Lauletta. The Giants lack of success drafting inside linebackers in the middle to late rounds in the last decade has conditioned me not to get too excited about players with that profile. Connelly is making me re-think that with his athleticism and ability to quickly diagnose what the offense is doing. Lauletta, meanwhile, has played well in the preseason games. He looks like a NFL quarterback and is making his case to be on the roster this season.
Salomone: Fact – When a player gets signed right at the start of camp as a backup plan, people tend to think of him as just a camp body. The front office didn’t, however, and neither did Jones. He has made plays from his very first practice and carried it over to live action in the preseason. He’s also added an element in the return game and broke a 43-yarder on a kickoff last week.
Medow: Fiction – TJ Jones is entering his sixth season in the league and has had more than enough experience with the Lions over his first five campaigns to know what it takes to produce on a consistent basis. That’s why I’m really not surprised with what he’s been able to do in a short period of time since joining the team on July 27. Veterans are used to making adjustments on the fly. Instead of Jones, how about Corey Ballentine and the strides he has made since missing some time in the spring and having to play a bit of catch-up. Let’s also not forget he’s making the transition from a D-II school to the NFL. When you take all of that into consideration and see how opportunistic he’s been in practice and games, this year’s sixth round pick has been the pleasant surprise of camp.