We're off to the races; finally! After all the talk about who looks good in camp, who's playing well, who needs to step it up, we finally get to watch the team against real live players from other teams. I guess if the coaches are really sharp they can evaluate their players in training camp in their intrateam practices, but in a sense it may be difficult to get a really good read on them. For example, if your team has a WR in training camp that is doing really well, how do you know it is the WR that is excelling - maybe the CBs on your team stink, or maybe they are easing up in practice just a little because of fear of injury, either of themselves or their teammates. So the first preseason game, where you get the lightest load for the starters (except for preseason game 4) really gives you a good look into how everyone is playing, especially the second and third team players who get a healthy dose of playing time. You get the teams going full speed against one another and consequently get a better judgement on who's doing what.
I was really surprised to read the analysis in the various local NY papers talking about how poorly the Giants defense played. The general tone in the papers was that the Giants run defense was really poor last year (correct statement) and despite all the personnel changes in the off season to the front 7, Giants could not stop the Steelers running game Saturday night. All these papers did was look at statistics and did not really look at the play of the game. For one thing, all the Steelers positive running plays runs were made after the Giants DL stopped the surge of the opposing OL and the RBs bounced it outside for some decent yardage. The Steelers have gone to a new zone blocking run scheme this year and you have to prepare defensively to stop that. Giants do not come up with a game plan for preseason games and the only recollection of the Steelers offense they had was the game towards the end of last year, from which the Steelers have changed their running game. Fact is that the Giants DL was dominant in this game and I was greatly encouraged by their play. The Steelers ran the ball effectively mostly on their second offensive possession and the rest of the night their running game was pedestrian. Giants LBs got caught not protecting the edge and allowing those cut back runs, but the LBs are much more athletic than last year and a little bit of coaching can fix that problem.
What I was incredibly impressed by was the play of the DL. Giants are so deep - they are surely going to have cut some NFL-caliber players there. First the great news is the 2 draft choices. Hankins looked very strong, plugging up the middle and showed great quickness getting a push at the QB and providing decent gap control. But the great news is 3rd rounder Damontre Moore. I know it's only part of one preseason game, but he looks like the second coming of JPP to me; another freak of an athlete at DE. He was very quick with his first step, has incredible speed as evidenced by the punt block, by pressuring the QBs and getting after runners from all angles on the field. New FA Cullen Jenkins looked great showing both speed and power. On his sack, he took an inside move beating his man with quickness and showed strength swatting him away from the side with one hand to get past him like he wasn't there. Generally when a DL-man beats his man, the OL-man is close enough to him to try and hold him, but Jenkins was a full 4 steps past his man in the blink of an eye and he ran down Big Ben easily. Very impressive.
The other DTs, Patterson and Austin also looked good. Patterson is a beast and Austin was very quick. I didn't get a good read on Shaun Rogers, but he has played well in the past. It's hard to tell who the Giants will keep from this group. The other surprise for me was Trattou who played an excellent football game. He sealed the edge several times on running plays and got after the QB effectively. Giants almost can't go wrong with who they keep from this group, but it seems likely that whomever they cut will end up on some NFL roster somewhere. I don't know if Trattou showed enough to put Adrian Tracy's job in jeopardy, but in my opinion, he jumped way ahead of Ojomo, who is a good pass rusher that I really like. Giants put pressure on the Steelers QBs all night; it was a very encouraging evening for the DL.
The LBs, after that second drive played much better. I am rooting for Herzlich, but Connor played better than he did, I thought. Rivers and Curry are both keepers, Williams did not seal the edge on a few running plays, but he has great speed and will be a good player for the Giants. He has incredible vertical jump, by the way - I saw it at practice last week and in the game when he batted down Big Ben's pass on their first possession of the game. I would like to keep 6 LBs: Paysinger, Herzlich, Rivers, Curry, Williams, Connor and cut Bosworth. But it becomes a number game - not sure if the Giants can keep 6 LBs. A few of the FA DBs looked good. At S there is a load of good players also - I thought Tyler Sash would be a camp cut, because he is least athletic of the players Giants have at S. But he played very well Saturday night, though mostly against Steelers second unit. Mundy played well also and with Will Hill and rookie Cooper Taylor (or is it Taylor Cooper?) along with presumptive starters Rolle and Brown, this is also a crowded position with lots of competition for roster spots. Remember Will Hill is suspended for first 4 games and that could affect Giants thinking.
The DB group looked pretty good, but when your team has a pass rush like Giants had, DB play always tends to improve. I am still worried about Corey Webster - he gave up a pass that would have been a TD if the WR had been able to keep his feet in bounds. He tackled his man just short of the 1st down marker on 3rd and 10 forcing Steelers FG, but he did give up the catch. Ross looks like he is playing really well as is Hosley. I would not be surprised if they move Ross to the starting outside CB, move Hosley in as the nickel/slot CB and move Webster to the bench. You can't give up on Webster yet, but he may have lost a half-step, which can be deadly for CBs.
More on the offense later this week.