Earlier this preseason, Ben McAdoo challenged the Giants’ starting defense. They had started out strong against the Steelers in the opener, playing a handful of snaps, and everything seemed to be fine. But McAdoo wanted more.
He told them he wanted them to go from good to great.
Two weeks later, they’re closer to that than ever.
The defense didn’t only stop the Jets in the first half of last night’s preseason game at MetLife Stadium, it directly scored 16 points and left at halftime with a 29-3 lead that eventually became a 32-21 win. Those defensive points — half the team’s total — came on a safety from Jason Pierre-Paul and a pair of pick-sixes by Landon Collins and Donte Deayon.
“Creating turnovers, putting points on the board, that’s definitely the next step and that’s a step for a dominant defense,” linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. “And that’s where we want to go.”
While greatness seems to be within the grasp of the Giants’ defense, the offense will settle for good. They played the game without their two big playmakers as receivers Odell Beckham Jr. (ankle) and Brandon Marshall (shoulder) sat out, but they still managed to look respectable for the first time this summer in the three series with Eli Manning at quarterback.
“I thought the offense did a good job,” said Manning (7-for-14, 121 yards), who likely will not play again until the opener in Dallas on Sept. 10. “We moved the ball. Every time we had a possession, we got some first downs and got into their territory.”
As for the Jets, they were able to rally against the Giants’ backups and score 28 of the game’s last 31 points. Bryce Petty threw three TD passes and Christian Hackenberg, who started the game and struggled, came in to replace Petty (knee) on the final drive. Hackenberg threw a touchdown that closed the gap to a single point with 1:26 left, but the Giants stuffed a two-point run attempt to seal the win.
The game was basically what many expect the 2017 season of New York football to be in microcosm. One team with a nasty defense, finding ways to score on offense, and winning. The other scuffling to move forward, giving up big plays on both sides of the ball, virtually rudderless at the quarterback position. And losing.
Pierre-Paul put the Giants on the board when he tackled Matt Forte in the end zone, and the Giants added a field goal to go ahead 5-0. But it wasn’t until Collins stepped in front of Hackenberg’s pass and strolled the 23 yards into the end zone that the Giants scored their first touchdown of the preseason. They were the last team in the NFL to do so.
Orleans Darkwa scored on a 1-yard run late in the first quarter as the Giants offense contributed points, making it 19-0. At 22-3 late in the half, Hackenberg tried to hit Robby Anderson but cornerback Janoris Jenkins leveled the receiver. The ball fluttered in the air after the collision and Donte Deayon grabbed it. He brought it 36 yards for a touchdown and a 29-3 lead with 1:15 left in the half.
“It was nice to see the defense put up the points they put up in the ballgame early,” Ben McAdoo said.
The Giants still have some concerns after the traditional dress rehearsal for the regular season, but worrying about being the top team in the market is clearly no longer one of them. Instead, they’re now starting to focus on Dallas in the opener two weeks from Sunday.
“We’re definitely happy with where we’re at,” Collins said. “We’re ready to play all four quarters now and see what we can do.”
What they want to do may not be doable.
“We’re chasing perfection,” Casillas said. “It’s not attainable, of course, we all know that. But we’re chasing it and doing everything we can to get as close as we can to it.”