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Geno's return, Engram's showcase, and more to look for as Giants battle Jets

Ralph Vacchiano | Facebook | Twitter | Archive
Normally this wouldn’t be alarming, especially for a veteran team halfway through the preseason, but the Giants still haven’t found the end zone this summer. They’ve scored six field goals in eight quarters. And they’ve only reached the red zone four times in 22 drives.
Now, to be fair, most of their playmakers have barely played this summer. That includes quarterback Eli Manning, who has played one half of football, and injured receivers Odell Beckham, Jr. (ankle) and Brandon Marshall (shoulder) who have barely played at all. So maybe not much should’ve been expected from a bunch of backups playing behind an offensive line that has been somewhere between mediocre and awful.
But the alarm bells are still sounding because this was the NFL’s eighth-worst offense last season. And since this is the last preseason game when the Giants are likely to play most of their starters, time is definitely running out.
Unfortunately for the Giants, while they will have Manning probably playing into the third quarter on Saturday night against the Jets, they are still almost certainly going to be without Marshall and Beckham. Their receiver problems go even deeper than that, since they’ll probably be without Dwayne Harris (upper body) and Tavarres King (ankle). So Manning won’t have his usual weapons.
But he’s going to have to figure out some way to finally get this sluggish offense to move.
How will he do that? Well, that’s the theme of the top things to watch when the Giants play their third game of the preseason against the Jets on Saturday night:
1.The offensive line
Is this the last chance for this group? Probably not. The odds are strong the current five starters will be the opening night starters. But when Ben McAdoo was asked if it’s too late now to make position switches up front, he wouldn’t rule it out. “Convenience is never a good answer,” he said. “You have to do what is best for the team. If you can improve the starting lineup, you improve it. You never take the easy way out.” The problem is the Giants’ line issues are all-inclusive. Despite all the focus on the tackles, particularly embattled left tackle Ereck Flowers, the interior of the line has been pretty bad this summer too. And it’s not as if there are any ready-to-go starters behind them who would be a dramatic improvement. So all the Giants can do is hope they can get better. That will be quite a challenge against a defensive front as talented and potentially dominant as the one on the Jets.
2. Paul Perkins vs. Orleans Darkwa
There is a lot of frustration in the Giants organization about the horrendous state of their running game right now, which has averaged 69 rushing yards through the first two games. A lot of that is because the offensive line hasn’t been strong, but the running backs haven’t exactly been good, either. Paul Perkins had 10 yards on six carries Monday night in Cleveland – quite a trick considering one of those was a 16-yard run. So far this preseason he’s rushed 11 times for 13 yards. It’s no wonder McAdoo is willing to consider Orleans Darkwa for the starting job, although with 29 yards on seven carries it’s not like he’s thrived either. The Giants thought Perkins’ young legs and quickness would boost a rushing attack that ranked 29th in the NFL last season. So far, that seems unrealistic, unless one of these guys can prove they can get the job done. If they can’t, maybe rookie Wayne Gallman (10-33) will get a look?

3. A showcase game for rookie tight end Evan Engram
Whenever they’re healthy, Beckham and Marshall will be Options No. 1 and 2 in the Giants’ passing game. But with those two out, this game will be a great chance to see what Engram can do. So far the Giants are dazzled by what he’s done this summer, and he flashed a little with his three-catch, 32-yard performance (including a 21-yarder) against the Browns. His workload will probably increase against the Jets since Sterling Shepard is the only one of the top three receivers who will be available. And it’ll be interesting to see what he can do with perhaps a little more of the defense focused directly on him.
4. Geno Smith vs. the Jets (and vs. Josh Johnson)
The Jets look a lot different than they did when Smith was there last year, and it’s only preseason, so this is hardly a big grudge match. But Smith clearly wants to show his old team what they let go. And he needs a good performance to solidify his position in his battle with Johnson for the backup quarterback job. Smith (21 of 33, 193 yards) has been the better of the two in the first two preseason games, but his two interceptions and one fumbled handoff brought back nightmares of his turnover-filled past. It’s unclear when he’ll get into this game, but he surely won’t be facing the Jets’ first-team defense. If he can play well and avoid big mistakes, this battle could be over before the Giants get to New England for their final preseason game next Thursday night.
5. Last chance for Roger Lewis?
Lewis has not been great in training camp and had a terrible preseason opener where he blew two touchdowns with a penalty and a drop. His role as the fourth receiver was in peril because of Tavarres King and Darius Powe and his role on special teams was threatened by, among others, cornerback Valentino Blake. All of a sudden, though, Lewis’ situation has dramatically improved. King is still out with an ankle injury. Powe (hamstring) was cut. Blake left the team for personal reasons. And now on Saturday night Lewis will likely start opposite Shepard because Beckham and Marshall are hurt (and their statuses for opening night are unknown). So now Lewis appears safe, but he’s not so valuable that his roster spot couldn’t be undone with another mistake-filled performance. He’s only had two catches for 21 yards in two games. Could undrafted rookie Travis Rudolph (3-30) nudge him out of the picture? Maybe, with a big game.
Tags: Brandon Marshall, Dwayne Harris, Eli Manning, Ereck Flowers, Evan Engram, Geno Smith, Odell Beckham Jr., Orleans Darkwa, Paul Perkins, Sterling Shepard, Tavarres King

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