EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Giants found the end zone for the first time this preseason, but that doesn't change the story of who they still are. They are exactly what they were at the end of last season:
A team with a dominant defense and an offense with serious flaws.
That was the painfully obvious lesson of their 32-31 win over the Jets on Saturday night in their annual, intra-city preseason game at the Meadowlands. The Giants defense overmatched the pathetic Jets' offense (at least in the first half, before the backups nearly blew all of their early, 29-3 lead). But the Giants' offense struggled with any consistency or efficiency behind its very questionable offensive line.
Those were the big takeaways from the third and most important preseason game, and the overriding theme of the five biggest things we learned:
1. The offensive line is still a liability, but changes may be coming. First, the encouraging news: It looks like Ben McAdoo is finally willing to do something about it. After right guard John Jerry was destroyed by Sheldon Richardson on a play where Eli Manning was hit and ended up throwing an interception, he was replaced by Brett Jones. And from there, the line was better. At least serviceable.
Later, when Josh Johnson replaced Eli Manning at quarterback, D.J. Fluker got his shot at right guard while the rest of the starting offensive line was still in the game. And he wasn't bad either. And later in the second quarter, rookie Chad Wheeler even replaced embattled left tackle Ereck Flowers with the rest of the first team line still in.
Now, McAdoo said the changes were planned, that it had nothing to do with the play of Jerry or Flowers. Maybe so, but it at least signaled a willingness by him to consider changes. And that's progress. Because at the start, before things settled down, the line was awful. Flowers - who did get better as the game went along - had an awful opening series where he was blown up by Leonard Williams, rag-dolled by Richardson, and called for a false start. Right before he left, he completely missed Richardson on a stunt that resulted in a sack.
And he was still better than Jerry.
Overall, there were still too few holes for the running backs, though, and too much pressure on Manning (and later Johnson). Putting Jones in for Jerry may help. But with no depth, there aren't many other changes McAdoo can make. That's especially true at tackle where Wheeler didn't exactly look ready for a prime-time, opening-night start. At left tackle, it's going to be Flowers or bust.
2. JPP is primed for a monster year. He has been spectacular all summer long in what is his first training camp at pretty much full health in what seems like forever, and against the Jets he was unstoppable. He started by blowing up Jets right tackle Brandon Shell and tackling running back Matt Forte in the end zone for a safety. At one point he tossed Shell aside on a pressure like he was half his size. He overpowered almost everyone he came up against and tipped a pass, too.
Pierre-Paul has shown flashes of that old form in recent seasons, but never consistently. We've all been waiting for the 2011 version of JPP since 2011. Maybe he's finally returned.
3. Evan Engram is going to be a factor. He only caught two passes for 32 yards, but it also took a spectacular play in the end zone by Jets safety Jamal Adams to knock a touchdown pass away from him. With no Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall to help, he was consistently getting open and can make difficult catches. He can also block a lot better than advertised. On the Giants' first touchdown of the preseason - a one-yard run by Orleans Darkwa - Engram made it happen by sealing the edge with a terrific block.
4. The Giants secondary is scary good. This wasn't even close to a vintage performance by CB Janoris Jenkins, and the Giants rotated three guys - Darian Thompson, Andrew Adams and Nat Berhe - in the spot next to Landon Collins, but the secondary was still absolutely suffocating. OK, they were facing the Jets. I get that. But they did what they're supposed to do to a bad team - they dominated.
Collins had a Pick-6 - albeit the easiest one he may ever have, thanks to the way Christian Hackenberg stared down his target. Thompson had a sack. CB Donte Deayon had a pick-6 thanks to Jenkins' hit on Jets WR Robby Anderson. No, Hackenberg wasn't very good, but there weren't a lot of open spots for him to throw.
5 .Travis Rudolph may make the Giants. And if he doesn't, the Jets should pick him up. He's one of the feel-good stories of Giants training camp because he's such a high-character kid, and he came into came as an undrafted longshot. But the longshot started to pay off against the Jets when he caught three passes for 81 yards, including a terrific catch in traffic that became a 57-yard gain.
He still may be a bit of a longshot, though. He hasn't been overly reliable, and he only caught three of the six passes thrown his way. There might have been an opening, too, because Roger Lewis has had a spotty preseason and caught only two passes for 30 yards on five targets Saturday night with a couple of arguable drops.
Rudolph may stick with the Giants, though. He's probably behind Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard, Lewis, Tavarres King and even Dwayne Harris, but four of those six are hurt right now. The Giants probably need to keep a seventh at least for the first couple of weeks.
And if they don't? Well, the Jets have Robby Anderson and rookies ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen. And behind them it's hard to argue they have anyone better than Rudolph. When the final cuts come in a week, there really should be no reason for him to leave town.