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Instant Analysis

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Instant Analysis: Top draft picks on display in Giants vs. Browns

AT A GLANCE: There were 12 preseason games around the NFL on Thursday night, but MetLife Stadium took center stage as the Giants hosted the Browns in the preseason opener. The hype leading up was largely due to the draw of seeing the top two draft picks in action for the first time. Running back Saquon Barkley, the second overall pick by the Giants, and quarterback Baker Mayfield, the first overall choice by Cleveland, made their pro debuts as the Giants fell to the Browns, 20-10. For Giants fans, though, it was the first look at a team that over the offseason ushered in a new general manager and new head coach, who brought in a new offense, defense, and special teams. Seeing them come together in training camp is one thing, but it’s another when the hitting is live.  

UP NEXT: Next week the Giants travel to Detroit, where they will practice with the Lions for three days leading up to their preseason game on Friday, Aug. 17 (7 p.m. ET kickoff). 

WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE OFFENSE

*The Saquon hype train only gathered steam after his first touch in a Giants uniform. On the opening play from scrimmage, the Penn State product showed his patented patience and bounced around a few times behind the new-look offensive line before bursting up the right side for a 39-yard gain. The Giants had just eight carries of 20 yards or more all of last season. 

“What I saw on that first carry, the offensive line did a great job of creating space and creating a hole,” Barkley said. “I was able to have patience and [tight end] Evan [Engram] did an unbelievable job of blocking on the backside, and I was able to burst through the hole, make a guy miss and get up field.”

Barkley’s other four carries went for distances of three, three, a loss of two yards, and no gain. He did not register a target as a receiver, but there is plenty of time for that as he embarks on his career. Barkley reflected on playing in his first NFL game.

“It felt weird,” he said. “The feelings are hard to describe. I really didn’t get that nervous for this game. I have been preparing for this moment my whole life. I was just excited to get out there and show my team what I have. I only got a couple of carries, but I wanted to show that I’m willing to get the gritty yards, break big plays, and be productive in this offense.”

*As expected, Pat Shurmur, whose first run as head coach came with the Browns from 2011-12, called the plays on offense. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula was on the field “because Mike also talks to the quarterbacks and he’s used to being on the field and being able to advise,” Shurmur said leading up to their first game together in this capacity. 

*Eli Manning played the first two series with the starters, completing four of his seven passes for 26 yards while being sacked once. They moved the ball well on the opening drive, marching 64 yards on eight plays to set up a field goal. 

“I think it’s always great to be back out there, get on the field, going against a new opponent,” Manning said. “And I think after the first game you see a lot about things you need to improve on. There’s things guys need to settle down and get comfortable with everything, but I thought there were some good things, got a scoring drive, but definitely after watching, I think you can see a lot of things we need to improve on.”

*The starting offensive line remained the same from training camp and before that in spring practices. From left to right, the starters were Nate Solder (free-agent addition), Will Hernandez (rookie second-round draft pick), Jon Halapio, Patrick Omameh (free-agent addition), and Ereck Flowers (moved from left to right tackle). This was the first time they had to block someone in a different uniform. 

“It’s always good to go against other competition,” said Solder, the former Patriot who has started in four Super Bowls and won two. “Getting prepared for another game scenario, like this, where there’s things at stake, you’re playing hard. Going against a guy you haven’t necessarily seen everyday, you have to be prepared through your film study and everything just like you have to be prepared during the season.”

*Second-year quarterback Davis Webb, who had not played in a game since last August, entered with the second-team offensive line on the third series and was unable to connect on his first six passes (his first throw was a short completion to Sterling Shepard that was negated by an illegal formation penalty). He finished nine of 22 for 70 yards. Kyle Lauletta, the rookie fourth-round draft choice, was the third quarterback in and completed seven of 10 passes for 51 yards. 

*Wayne Gallman is looking to make it a trio in the backfield along with Barkley and veteran Jonathan Stewart. Gallman, a fourth-round pick by the Giants last season, racked up four catches for 33 yards Thursday night.

WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE DEFENSE

*Darian Thompson started next to two-time Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins, who recorded one tackle for a loss of a yard on a rushing attempt by Carlos Hyde. During the spring and into training camp, it has been a revolving door next to Collins as the coaches try to find the right man for the job. Curtis Riley, who had seen extensive snaps with the first team, did not dress because of a hamstring injury. Andrew Adams, who has 30 games under his belt with 17 starts at safety over the last two years, led the team with seven tackles. Meanwhile, it was Collins’ first game back since fracturing his forearm in the second-to-last game of the 2017 season. 

“It felt awesome [to be back], honestly,” Collins said. “Just to be able to let it boom with somebody, come out with my hips, explode and hold, and not hold back. It’s not training camp anymore; it’s football season. Just to be able to do that was a fun time, brought back old memories and trying to make new ones.”

*Second-year Browns tight end David Njoku won a footrace with Giants middle linebacker Alec Ogletree, and starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor found him for a 36-yard score late in the first quarter. The Giants were also gashed with a 54-yard touchdown from Mayfield to Antonio Callaway in the fourth quarter. Veteran defensive tackle Robert Thomas recorded the first sack of the game on Baker Mayfield to push the Browns out of field goal range late in the third quarter. 

*The Giants allowed 322 passing yards, but they shut down the run as Cleveland totaled just 50 yards on 33 carries (1.5 yards per carry). 

WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT SPECIAL TEAMS

*New punter Riley Dixon looked like he was worth the conditional 2019 seventh-round draft choice the Giants sent to the Broncos in exchange for the Syracuse product. Dixon booted 10 punts with three inside the 20-yard line. 

*Hunter Sharp primarily handled kick and punt returns for the Giants. He averaged 31 yards on the kicks with a long of 42 while his punt return was for a loss of three yards. The Giants, like the 31 other clubs, are adjusting to the new kickoff rules adopted this offseason. The changes include: no wedge blocks; kickoff team must have five players on each side of the ball; kickoff team cannot line up more than one yard from restraining line (34-yard line for kickoff at 35) so that players will not have a running start to run downfield after kick; and at least two players must be lined up outside the yard-line number and two players between the inbounds line and the yard-line number.

*Kicker Aldrick Rosas, who made 18 of 25 field goal attempts last year and had two blocked in his first NFL season, made his lone attempt from 42 yards. Marshall Koehn kicked an extra point. 

*Two-time Pro Bowl long snapper Zak DeOssie, the 12-year veteran known for being the first man down the field, recovered a fumble that was forced by Kerry Wynn on Browns returner C.J. Board. The Giants got the ball back on the Browns 14, and three plays later, Jalen Simmons ran in for a five-yard touchdown.

DID NOT DRESS DUE TO INJURY: WR Travis Rudolph (quad), CB William Gay (hamstring), S Curtis Riley (hamstring), CB Donte Deayon (hamstring), TE Ryan O’Malley (ankle), LB Thurston Armbrister (hamstring)

GAME CAPTAINS: QB Eli Manning, OLB Olivier Vernon, LS Zak DeOssie

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