It's really funny - preseason games are exactly the opposite of regular season games in two important respects. In the regular season, you want your team to win and you don't really care how they look. During the preseason, it's exactly the reverse: you don't really care if they win, you only care how they look. Style points matter more than results. You also care about who played, who was injured, who played well, how long the starters played, how long the other team's starters played, what rookies stepped in and looked good - all that stuff becomes important. With that context, I came away from the first two games with completely opposite feelings. Giants won the first game against the Jets, but I was disappointed with the team's performance, primarily because the first team defense got pushed around by the Jets starting OL. It was nice that they won, but this was based on a few big plays in the second half by Giants players that may not make the team against players on the Jets that may not make their team. Cruz made some nice plays, impressed everyone and the coaches will probably try to find him a roster spot. But the fact is - he is definitely on the bubble and might not make the team. Frankly, even though the Giants were high on Ramses Barden and he brings a much different package than Cruz because of his height, he has shown little in the games and apparently has had an uneven camp. On top of that, he's got a back problem. The job of WRs is to make plays; it is not to "be tall". So even though Cruz is small, it's hard to keep a playmaker off the team in favor of someone who has the physical package but hasn't done much. If it comes down to those two right now, I am taking Cruz. The primary WR corps contenders are: Smith, Nicks, Manningham, Moss, Barden, Cruz and Hagan. There are some others in camp that have only a remote chance to make it. If 7 is the number of WRs that they carry, Cruz will probably make the team, but he might not have if Hixon had not gotten hurt.
Conversely, in the second game against the Steelers, the first team defense looked pretty good in the first half. There was some pressure on the qb, though no sacks. There were some big plays against the running game, where the defense got good penetration and made tackles behind the line of scrimmage for a loss. Osi even stepped up and made a play in the running game. Corey Webster made an INT - several good things happened to be pleased about. The Steelers hit one big play for the TD that put them ahead 10-7, but that was against a rookie safety who may not make the team. Even the offense got a TD in the first half, though they did not look very good and fluid throughout the entire half. Of course, you can expect the production to be down because two starting OL-men were out, the starting and backup QB were out, the best WR Nicks got thrown out after only a few plays and the starting TE Boss didn't play either. Some lack of productivity can be expected under those circumstances, but at least we saw some movement. Smith made a great catch and Bradshaw looked like he had some juice. I did not get a good read on Will Beatty at LT and that is an important development. He wasn't terrible, but he wasn't great either. Diehl looked a little clunky at LG.
One more comment on the defense and an explanation on why I am not yet concerned that they were not a dominating group. The Giants are playing their defense so straight, so vanilla, with absolutely no wrinkles in the preseason, that you can expect lack of domination from the complete predictability. They are blitzing only a little bit and when they do, they generally bring another LB and are doing so right up the middle. More important though, is that the DL pass rush is just straight bull rush; no stunts, no twists, no combination loops by the DE with inside blitz by LB. Lots of teams do this in the preseason, apparently in an attempt to keep the defensive schemes hidden, but the Giants seem to be taking it to an extreme this year. They don't want to put anything on film that the opposing OCs can sink their teeth into. Let's hope new DC Fewell has some new ideas and schemes that will give the Giants defense an advantage.
The Giants have a lot of depth in the DL and my good friend Ray pointed out to me in an email, that while most teams usually carry 8 or 9 DL-men, it seems impossible for the Giants to carry lesss than 10. Who are you going to cut? At DE it's Osi, Kiwi, Tuck, JPP, Tollefson and at DT, it's Cofield, Joseph, Alford, Canty and Bernard. I guess Bernard could go, but he is in the 2nd year of a FA contract and probably will stay. Tollefson is not a great player and I guess he might be at risk, but he is a useful substitute and can play some ST.
Ray also pointed out that some shuffling at the LB position might be significant or indicative of their plans and player evaluations thus far. Bulluck is taking snaps at OLB, Wilkerson has been moved from MLB to OLB and Kiwanuka is taking some snaps at LB. All this points to the fact that they are not sold on Sintim at OLB and that Goff is doing better at MLB than they thought he would. So maybe Goff gets the MLB position and Bulluck gets pushed outside to replace Sintim. It also could be that by sliding Kiwanuka to LB you get even more pass rush fire power on passing downs. We'll see.
A recent development of which I am sure you are all by now aware, is the signing of former Eagles G/T Shaun Andrews to a 6 year contract. There is lots of maneuverability in the contract from a Giants salary cap point of view, as very little of the money is guaranteed. If he doesn't return to form, the Giants can just cut him. If he does come back and returns to his dominating all-pro form, the contract in years 2 through 6 is not prohibitive. But, I have to say that I think his signing is indicative of the Giants personnel evaluators view of the team. The Giants have made some interesting signing of veterans in the past several years in what could be considered the secondary FA market. Aside from the big ticket, young player signings like Canty, Rolle, Bolley, etc, who they signed to long term contracts, when they signed slightly older veterans that they viewed probably as stopgaps, they signed them to 1 or 2 year contracts. I am thinking of Kawika Mitchell, Danny Clark and Bulluck this year. Those players were viewed as hole fillers not as long term investments. Mitchell left after his 1 year contract; Clark left after his 2 year contract and probably the same will be true for Bulluck. So when Andrews gets signed to a 6 year contract, it is probably not viewed as a temporary maneuver but as a strategic investment in a player for the long term. Andrews is young and was dominant in his time in Philly, but he had back problems and apparently also suffers from depression. This is a low risk investment for the Giants, but the fact that they signed him to a 6 year contract and are working him out at LT as well as LG shows that they believe that Diehl may not be the answer and Beatty is still unproven.