EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants progressed Saturday night.
Their quarterbacks threw 49 passes and were sacked just once. The run defense was stout, allowing just 2.4 yards a carry and zero touchdowns. The kicking game accounted for five field goals, including three that traveled 43, 51 and 53 yards. And they won, defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars in MetLife Stadium, 22-12.
So yes, the Giants took steps forward in their second preseason game.
Just not enough to satisfy Tom Coughlin.
"I think we improved a little bit tonight,'" Coughlin said. "Nothing earth shaking, but we did get a little bit better. We're going to have to get a lot better."
More specifically, the first-team offense must put more points on the board. The unit was better than it was in a lackluster performance last week in Cincinnati. Eli Manning and the starting ballhandlers played four series, ran 21 plays, gained 76 yards, converted three third-down opportunities, picked up five first downs … but scored just three points.
"We have to do a little bit better," said Manning, who completed four of 14 passes for 46 yards. "Just moving in the pocket, finding lanes, had a couple balls batted down. I think we had some opportunities for some big plays that we just missed, a little off. So we just have to keep working with those guys getting on the same page, getting the right timing."
The Giants scored on five Josh Brown field goals – from 51, 43, 53, 37 and 28 yards, and an eight-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Nassib to Dwayne Harris. They got the touchdown after Brown missed a 46-yard attempt, but picked up a first down when Jacksonville's Nick Marshall was penalized for being offside. Nassib completed passes of 16 yards to James Jones and nine yards to rookie Geremy Davis before finding Harris for the score.
The Jaguars got their points on field goals of 52 yards by Josh Scobee and 38, 49 and 55 yards by Jason Myers.
Both teams are 1-1 this preseason.
Perhaps the most significant positive was the play of the offensive line, which gave Manning and Nassib time to throw most of the night. The unit played longer than the other members of the starting offense.
"We're trying to get some cohesion with the offensive line," Coughlin said. "We let them play a little bit longer. We had 30-something plays in the first half and we left the first line in there. I have to see the tape in order to tell you the exact comment on that, but I think for the most part they did okay."
The linemen are aware they've been the subject of public criticism, but they haven't let it alter their belief that it's a strong unit that will continue to improve.
"A lot of things went well for us last week that people really didn't get to see, like we were just a foot off of blocking a guy and it would've gone for a touchdown," left guard Justin Pugh said. "So those are things that we saw and we were able to build off of that. This is a great group of guys, great room, we're having a lot of fun playing with each other, everyone picks each other up and it's something that I am very excited about being a part of this and excited to see where it is going to go from here."
Five standout performers in the Giants second preseason game vs. Jaguars
Great guys or not, they must help get the ball in the end zone and not keep Brown so busy on field goal attempts.
"Obviously we would like to have finished off some of those drives with touchdowns," Pugh said. "But we're moving in the right direction."
They got a push on that course with the return of Geoff Schwartz, who played in his first game since breaking his ankle last Nov. 30 in Jacksonville. Schwartz didn't start, but played both right guard and tackle.
"It was good to be out there, it's just nice," Schwartz said. "I feel like I'm back doing what I love to do. Game day is what you prepare for all week, and it's good to just be out there with my teammates just trying to get better. Just exciting to finally be able to just do it.
"I played for a while. I felt good. It was kind of like, 'Hey, how you feeling?' I was like, 'I'm good to go,' and just kept going until it was time. It takes a lot of reps to kind of get back into rhythm, especially after last year (when he played only two games). I didn't play last week, so I needed the reps. So I'll take them."
Perhaps the offense's biggest disappointment was the lack of success Manning had connecting with Odell Beckham Jr. The Giants' first two plays were long passes down the left sideline for Beckham, both of which fell incomplete. Manning threw five passes to the reigning Rookie of the Year, and not one was completed. In two games, Beckham has been targeted seven times and has yet to catch a pass. So the receiver who had 91 receptions in 12 games last season has still never caught a pass in a preseason games.
"First one, I think I just underthrew maybe a little bit, a guy got a hand in there," Manning said. "The next one, I thought it was close to hitting that one on the deep one. We had the one that they ruled incomplete; just got to get that one a little higher up there. We've just got to keep practicing and keep getting those reps in practice and keep making those plays."
Like the entire offense, the Manning/Beckham partnership is a work in progress.
"They will connect," Coughlin said. "We had a number of plays for him and tried to direct things in that direction. But everybody has got to play better."