The offseason was very different for the New York Giants and the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Giants celebrated their second championship in five years, while the Jaguars continued their wholesale organizational changes by bringing in new Head Coach Mike Mularkey.
Despite getting outscored 24-14 in the first half with the starters in the game, Mularkey was thrilled that the Jaguars were able to pull off the 32-31 victory, particularly for a franchise that is looking for any positive momentum as they head into the season.
The Giants’ championships runs have been characterized by their ability to play their best football in December and January, so while the end result will not have them losing any sleep, there were plenty of players to look at from their first preseason game of the year.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Three Things of Note
1) Blaine Gabbert
After a disastrous rookie season, the Jaguars spent the offseason finding some weapons for quarterback Blaine Gabbert. They brought in free agent wide receiver Laurent Robinson and then spent their first round pick on WR Justin Blackmon. In addition, new head coach Mike Mularkey was instrumental in the development of Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan and Jacksonville is hoping for similar results with Gabbert.
On the first Jaguars’ drive, Gabbert came out firing and converted four straight third downs, including a beautiful 3-yard fade pass to WR Cecil Shorts for a touchdown. Gabbert showed some poise in the pocket and displayed good arm strength as he moved the Jaguars down the field. Just as impressive was his apparent comfort and command of the offense. On one running play, he appeared to check a play at the line, and whether he stayed with the original call or audibled to a new play, it was the right move as he ran opposite the Giants’ overloaded strong side of the defense. Running back Rashad Jennings turned it into a 16-yard gain. Gabbert later threw a slant route on a called running play, and though the pass got batted away, he displayed the confidence in the offense that Jaguars fans were hoping to see last season.
His second drive looked more like 2011, though he was under more pressure from the Giants defense. He missed an open Robinson on two occasions, the first as he braced for a hit and the second was an overthrow on a deep out from a clean pocket. On Gabbert’s last play of the evening he held onto the ball too long after reacting to pressure up the middle from DT Marvin Austin. The result was a strip sack from DE Adrian Tracy and a disappointing end to a promising evening for Gabbert.
2) Andre Branch
Drafted in the second round, Andre Branch was brought to Jacksonville to rush the passer. The Jaguars have missed in the draft on recent pass-rushing hopefuls and they’re expecting Branch to buck that trend. In this game, he lined up primarily at right end and was generally pretty quiet against the Giants’ first-team offense. Veteran left tackle Sean Locklear held him in check other than one bullrush which was still too late getting to QB Eli Manning.
Branch did finally get some pressure, but he did so against backup tackles James Brewer and Brandon Mosley. He showed nice explosiveness off the edge as he beat both tackles to the outside, and his pressure against Mosley (from left end) forced QB David Carr to step up into a sack. Against the run, Branch made a nice play on 3rd-and-2, as he got under the pads of rookie tight end Adrien Robinson and got down the line to make a stop on the running back. Overall, Branch forced the QB to move on three of his 17 pass rushes and he flashed some athleticism off the edge. At this point, he’ll have to continue to develop his array of pass rush moves if he wants to make an impact against the best tackles in the league.
3) Cameron Bradfield
In limited time last season, offensive tackle Cameron Bradfield showed well, particularly as a pass blocker where he surrendered only four total pressures on 102 pass block attempts. He got the start at right tackle in this game and looks poised to take over the back up role from Guy Whimper who graded at -13.5 last season. The game started out on a sour note as Bradfield got beaten to the inside by DE Justin Tuck who picked up a hit on Gabbert. He was pretty solid on his 11 other pass block attempts at RT, but it was his run blocking where he made his mark. Bradfield was able to seal Tuck, Austin, and Jason Pierre-Paul on run plays and he was a key part of RB Rashad Jennings’ 56 yards on 12 carries.
In the second half, Bradfield got some work in at left tackle and the results were ugly. By my count, he gave up two pressures and a hit on just nine pass block attempts and he also picked up a false start. He appeared much more comfortable playing on the right side against the Giants’ starters than he did playing on the left side against their backups.
New York Giants – Three Things of Note
1) Martellus Bennett
After playing behind tight end Jason Witten for the last four years, Martellus Bennett has a chance to become a major weapon in the Giants’ offense. Last season the tight end position was manned by Jake Ballard, who made some plays in the passing game, but was generally unproductive as a run blocker. Bennett has already established himself as one of the best run blocking tight ends in the league, and he will bring an added dimension to the Giants’ running game.
In this game, Bennett showed up in the passing game as he caught three balls for 27 yards and a touchdown. He converted a third down on a deep in-route, forced a missed tackle after catching a short pass in the flat and capped off his night by catching a bullet down the seam from QB David Carr for his touchdown. With the Giants’ outside receiving options, Bennett will have a chance to work the middle of the field and he may break out this season as one of the better all-around TE options in the league.
2) Prince Amukamara
The Giants’ 2011 first round pick, Prince Amukamara, only played 204 snaps in his rookie season, but he’s expected to start on the right side this year. Though he only played the first series, Amukamara looked lost in coverage on two plays. The first was a 29-yard completion to WR Mike Thomas where Amukamara was caught peeking into the backfield as Thomas separated from him on a deep out. In a similar manner, Amukamara pressed and then lost sight of WR Cecil Shorts on a 3-yard fade route in the end zone to finish the Jaguars’ first drive.
3) Replacing Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham
It’s not as if the Giants are hurting for playmakers, but they still have to replace one half of their running back tandem and their No.3 wide receiver in Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham respectively. They spent their first two draft picks on RB David Wilson and WR Rueben Randle, so they’ve certainly addressed their free agent losses.
Despite the investment in the top picks, there are other players in the mix for playing time and RB Danny Ware had a nice showing on his five carries. He ran with power and shiftiness, including a nifty 16-yard run in the second quarter. Wilson made the most of his opportunities by picking up 43 yards on seven carries. He also showed his speed on a 48-yard kickoff return. He showed great burst on a draw play before making a defender miss in the secondary for a 26-yard run and he later got to the outside on a toss play, breaking another tackle in the process. Wilson is not the bruising running back that Jacobs is, but his big-play ability is likely to allow him to see the field early for the Giants.
Randle was targeted three times and caught two for 27 yards and a touchdown. He made a nice adjustment to a low throw for a 21-yard gain and later used his size and athleticism to catch a 6-yard fade route for a TD. Second-year WR Jerrel Jernigan was thought to be a slot receiver, but he saw a lot of time playing on the outside. He was unable to create any separation on his only target down the field and he seems like a better option as a backup to WR Victor Cruz in the slot.