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Giants lack consistency in first preseason game

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — New year, same story for the New York Giants, who are in a must-win season now more than ever thanks to three straight years of missing the playoffs.

While the starters were only in the game for a handful of plays in Friday night’s 23-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, both the offense and defense at times looked as though it was the first time they were working together all summer.

There was no rhythm, no consistency and a whole lot of missed opportunities that just didn’t sit well with head coach Tom Coughlin.

“I just think our tempo and our rhythm (on offense) have to be upgraded. Obviously, we had some issues with protection or running the ball,” Coughlin said.

“I thought our two days of controlled work against Cincinnati were better than the way in which we played.”

The biggest issue for the Giants is one that has dogged the team since 2012: the offensive line.

Although New York was missing starting right guard Geoff Schwartz (ankle), the starting configuration of Ereck Flowers at left tackle, Justin Pugh at left guard, Weston Richburg at center, John Jerry at right guard and Marshall Newhouse at right tackle couldn’t get any push in the running game whatsoever.

That in turn posed a problem when New York tried to employ play-action as the Bengals defense was all over the Giants, whose receivers, missing Victor Cruz (knee), also didn’t have a very good night, combining to catch 15 of 33 pass targets in the game.

The starting defense, which is trying to jell under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, wasn’t that much better.

The Bengals’ first three plays all went for double-digit yardage. The Bengals also jumped out to a 10-0 first-quarter lead, their lone touchdown in the quarter coming because of a busted coverage.

“They were able to have some success. They hit us with some runs, some passes. But, overall, we need to start faster,” middle linebacker Jon Beason said. “I think that would’ve covered up a lot of things.”

The injury situation, which seemed to hit the defensive backfield combined with the inexperience at safety, certainly didn’t help the situation on defense.

The Giants went into the game minus starting cornerback Prince Amukamara (groin). They also had safety Bennett Jackson (quad) and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (groin) trying to play through injuries.

During the game, the Giants ended up having four more defensive backs leave ahead of schedule, including safeties Mykkele Thompson (Achilles) and Landon Collins (knee), and corners Jayron Hosley (neck/concussion) and Trumaine McBride (hamstring).

With the Giants’ first game in the books, any progress they made on both sides of the ball seemingly regressed.

The good news, at least as far as Coughlin is probably concerned, is that the coaching staff at least knows what it has to focus on in the coming week as it looks to get on track with a better showing against the Jaguars on Saturday.

“We have a lot of work to do, a long way to go,” Coughlin concluded.

–The Giants’ safety situation has apparently gone from good to dire all in a matter of six months.

To recap, the team decided to let veterans Antrel Rolle, Quintin Demps and Stevie Brown move on. They then spent three draft picks to add Landon Collins, who cost the Giants a fourth-rounder in order to move up in the second round, and Mykkele Thompson to a young group that already included Nat Berhe and Cooper Taylor, neither of whom has ever started an NFL game.

They converted Bennett Jackson from cornerback to safety and added free-agent veteran Jeromy Miles.

If the lack of starting experience wasn’t enough to give the soon-to-be 69-year-old head coach Tom Coughlin more gray hairs than he already has, the latest turn of events probably did the trick.

Thompson is done for the year after rupturing his Achilles tendon. Collins suffered a sprained MCL that will keep him out of action at least one week.

Berhe has been trying to battle back from a calf injury that has limited his appearances on the field and Jackson has been battling a quad problem.

“The level of concern has been there since day one because of the nature of where we are,” Coughlin said about the safety position.

“We obviously drafted two young players that we thought would be able to help and we’ve lost one of those guys, and the other issue is how quickly can Landon (Collins) come back so he doesn’t miss anything?

“He needed last night to be honest with you, in order to be in a position to see what takes place in the NFL and he didn’t get much last night. So certainly there is concern.”

Coughlin is hoping that he will have Berhe, one of two safeties from the roster last year (the other being Taylor, who spent the season on injured reserve), back on the field soon.

“When we brought him back before, we thought he was going to be able to work his way through this before and he got sore again,” Coughlin said. “Whenever we get the green light to bring him back, we will do so. We’re going to have to keep our fingers crossed that he can stay on the field and get himself in a position to be able to contribute.”

Given the injury situation, the Giants will apparently go into the new week with Miles, who was added before the start of training camp and Taylor, who has missed all or parts of his first two seasons in the NFL, as the starting safeties.

“Miles knows the defense and has been around with Steve Spagnuolo (from Baltimore) and he is a guy whom we’re fortunate to have here because of all that,” Coughlin said.

“Cooper is learning, he’s come in and after having all that time off, he’s started to come back and hopefully he’ll keep growing and learning.”

They are also going to continue working with Jackson, who was nursing a quad injury earlier in camp. Jackson had been getting a look at nickel cornerback, but Coughlin indicated that the first-year player “will probably have to play more at safety now.”

There is also the very real possibility the Giants will look to add to the position, but for the time being, Coughlin seems resigned to go into the week with what is already on the roster.

“Those are the guys we have and we’ll work hard to get those guys ready to play,” he said.

–Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who did not have a reception in his first preseason outing of his career, still was able to enjoy a special opportunity to play in a game with former college teammate Jeremy Hill.

Hill, a running back for the Bengals, and Beckham were teammates at LSU and were both drafted last year, Hill in the second round and Beckham in the first.

While the Giants were in town for the joint practices with the Bengals, the two close friends made it a point to get together whenever time permitted.

“Anytime there’s a chance for me, Jarvis (Landry), Jeremy (Hill), James (Wright) — any of those guys who were close, to link up — nothing is really going to get in the way of it,” Beckham said with a smile. “It’s kind of like a top priority. It’s great to just be able to see your brothers every now and then.”

Beckham, who saw his popularity explode off the charts, reflected on Hill’s success last season and spoke proudly about all his good friend was able to accomplish.

“It was great, and Jarvis, as well. We’re in the middle of games and I’m looking up at the JumboTron and those guys are on the screen and they’re scoring or they’re doing something — you’re watching them make plays,” he said.

“I remember catching myself in the middle of plays last year looking up at the JumboTron and Eli (Manning) is calling out the play. I’m watching highlights and seeing those guys on there. It was just extra motivation, extra incentive to do better.”

Beckham smiled when asked if he had a favorite play made by Hill.

“There’s so many plays this guy has made, it’s hard to pick one,” he said. “I’ll just go with one last year. I think the funniest thing I saw him do, besides the great celebrations that he had, just seeing him stiff-arm a guy against Cleveland and accelerate away.

“It’s kind of a little inside joke with him being like accelerating away. Coach Frank (Wilson) used to always yell at him, and then jumping into the stands and they pushed him back down. It was a joke in our group chat for a long time.”

–S Mykkele Thompson suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon and is done for the year. Thompson, the team’s fifth-round draft pick, had been having a strong camp and had been vying for a spot at safety.

–S Landon Collins has a MCL sprain and head coach Tom Coughlin says there’s a good chance the rookie will be out of action for “more than one week.” Collins told reporters after the game that he banged the knee on a play in the first half.

–WR Rueben Randle, who has been bothered by patellar tendinitis, was unable to get much out of his preseason opener this week. Head coach Tom Coughlin, who indicated that Randle struggled this past week in practice, said the receiver didn’t warm up very well.

“We probably should have shut him down right away,” Coughlin said.

Randle could end up missing the coming week while the training staff works to help him alleviate his discomfort.

–WR Odell Beckham Jr., who last year missed the entire preseason, did not have a reception in the game. It was also the first time since Beckham has been active for the Giants that he didn’t have a catch.

–CB Chykie Brown (leg) will not practice this week, according to head coach Tom Coughlin.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Running back.

The Giants were largely believed to be contemplating keeping three running backs plus a fullback on their 2015 roster. However, they might want to rethink that plan if indeed the case, given the showing that emerged at the position in the preseason opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.

First-year player Orleans Darkwa, thought to be on the bubble, led the Giants in rushing in their 23-10 loss to the Bengals. Darkwa finished with 52 yards on nine carries and scored the team’s lone touchdown. More important, he ran with power and decisiveness and looked quick hitting the hole.

Not to be outdone, rookie Akeem Hunt of Purdue also had a nice showing, finishing tied for second on the team in rushing (with quarterback Ryan Nassib).

Hunt, who logged 18 yards on three carries, also excelled on special teams as a kickoff returner, finishing with two returns for 94 yards, including a spectacular 70-yard return on which he showed patience, vision and acceleration while following his blocking.

Both Hunt and Darkwa are eligible for the practice squad, but if each continues to have a strong showing in games, it would not be a surprise if one lands on the 53-man roster with the runner-up on the practice squad.


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