The Giants didn't look good in their preseason opener, but they were missing so many players it was unfair to judge. Eli Manning, Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard didn't play and Brandon Marshall only took a handful of snaps. On defense, the starters only played sparingly, too.
Things should be different against the Browns on Monday night in Cleveland, though. Manning will get a "big chunk" of playing time, according to Giants coach Ben McAdoo, and it's a good bet most of the healthy starters will last into the second quarter.
This obviously won't tell the story of whether the Giants are truly Super Bowl contenders, but it'll give everyone an idea of how much progress from the end of last season has really been made.
With that in mind, here are five things worth watching in Cleveland on Monday night:
1. Left tackle Ereck Flowers and the offensive line
It took about six days after the preseason opener, but McAdoo finally decided Flowers was "a bright spot" in that game. He certainly wasn't terrible, but calling him a "bright spot" on what was generally a poor performance by the line could have been relative. Regardless, McAdoo added "I look forward to him taking a jump this week."
They need the whole line to take a jump because they remain the biggest problem with this offense. Their practices this summer have not been encouraging - and that's particularly true of Flowers, who gets a huge challenge against Myles Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick in the last draft. The Giants swear they're not pondering any changes, that they're content with the status quo, and they believe the line will be stronger after a year together.
The clock is ticking, though. Opening Day is now less than three weeks away.
2. Eli Manning
McAdoo has never been afraid to be critical of his franchise quarterback, calling him "rusty" last week and partially blaming him for the offensive line issues back in the winter. He obviously wants to keep the 36-year-old on his toes so the Giants don't have to suffer through the beginning of a career-ending decline. Well, despite that "rust," Manning has had one of the best camps he's had in years. He looks sharp, strong, and not at all like he's bracing for the beginning of the end.
Still, he has to figure out a way to operate despite a porous line and potentially without much of a running game. Last year he couldn't do that. Maybe it wasn't his fault, maybe as McAdoo suggested it partially was. But keep an eye on how he handles the pressure from the Browns. That's the area of improvement McAdoo most wants to see.
3. Paul Perkins vs. Orleans Darkwa
It's hard to know when to take McAdoo seriously with his non-answers sometimes, but he did open the door last week for someone other than Perkins to win the starting running back job. Maybe that's because Perkins had five yards on three carries in the preseason opener, despite starting with a seven-yard gain. Maybe it's because he finally sees what everyone else sees in Darkwa (3-18 in the opener) - that he's the toughest inside runner on the team, and has the best ability to push the pile when a hole isn't there.
The odds are still pretty good that Perkins will be the opening day starter and Darkwa will be his backup. But McAdoo said "Whoever plays the best is going to get the ball," so maybe the competition is closer than anyone thought it would be.
4. The two-man backup QB battle … or is it three-man?
Josh Johnson looked terrible in the preseason opener (5 of 10, 31 yards). Geno Smith looked adequate (10 of 16, 114 yards, one interception). It was assumed after that game that Smith had the edge. But Smith also fumbled twice in a practice last week which caused McAdoo to surprisingly send him on a lap around the field, high school style.
Then came Thursday when McAdoo chided the media for assuming this was a two-man battle.
"I think we all have to be careful making assumptions," he said. "Josh and Geno are competing right now for the No. 2 spot, and if that doesn't look the way we want it to look, Davis [Webb] will get a crack."
That would be a shocking development, considering the Giants' plan has been to let the third-round rookie - and presumed Quarterback of the Future - sit and watch for a year without any real chance of getting in a game. Things change, though. Or maybe this was just McAdoo's way of lighting a fire under his two underwhelming actual backup competitors.
Either way, it's always been the games that matter in this battle. Webb, by the way, was 8 of 16 for 67 yards in his debut. Game on.
5. The kickoff
There really hasn't been much to separate first-year pro Aldrick Rosas and 14-year veteran Mike Nugent. In the preseason opener, they both went 2-for-2. Rosas hit from 27 and 52 yards, while Nugent hit from 30 and 45. It should be noted that none of those were exactly high-pressure kicks. Also, in practice it has often appeared that Rosas has had the edge, though maybe not by much.
Here's what has to happen: Either one of them has to separate themselves in a game, either with a high-pressure kick or a terrible miss, or the Giants need to just decide what's more important - Rosas' superior leg strength and potential, or Nugent's experience and reliability.
For the moment, though, every kick - and perhaps even every kickoff - matters.