As Canton welcomed its latest class of enshrinees, the state of New York descended on Fawcett Field to see the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants open up another preseason.
Both teams head into 2014 off of disappointing, playoff-less 2013 seasons looking for growth and more wins in 2014. The Bills enter the second year of the Marrone/Manuel era needing their signal-caller to make strides after an injury-marred and generally disappointing rookie season. More work has been made to refresh the roster and while there were positive signs on the defensive side under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, the offense still looks like a work in progress.
On the opposite sidelines, the Giants featured a fresh offense under the tutelage of new coordinator Ben McAdoo. A slow start with a new passing game was to be expected, but there were positives on the ground while the well established defense flashed strength throughout the depth chart.
As football makes its return, here are our takeaways from last night’s Hall of Fame game.
New York – Three Performances of Note
Nassib Sets Out His Stall
While Eli Manning got his preseason off to a slow start the more noteworthy thing to draw from the Giants’ quarterback deployment was the clear intent for Ryan Nassib to take the backup role in his second season. After just one preseason game Nassib has already played more than half as many snaps as he saw in the entirety of his rookie venture; 29 last night compared to 53 last August.
The headline statistics were good (7-of-12, 139 yards, 1 TD), though that was thanks to two plays largely out of his control. Firstly, a dreadful interception was scratched off of his stat line (though not his passing grade which netted -1.0) courtesy of a pair of penalties by Stefan Charles, while his 73-yard scoring pass was thanks in large part to an excellent play by Corey Washington to rescue Nassib’s underthrow. The performance certainly did not match the raw numbers, but there were enough solid throws for first downs around the two big plays to offer comfort that he should take the opportunity to unseat Curtis Painter.
Busy Hosley Has Work To Do
No Giants defender played more than Jayron Hosley’s 42 snaps last night and no Giants defender netted a lower overall grade than Hosley (-3.0), either. Twice flagged for defensive holding, both times on former undrafted free agent Kevin Elliot, Hosley also let up 27 yards on five catches. That might seem a strong average but it did feature three first downs and a touchdown surrendered and this poor outing coincided with the Giants showing their new found strength in depth around him.
New signing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is entrenched as a starter across from Prince Amukamara while new signing Zackary Bowman had a solid debut (+1.9 coverage). Bouncing back well from a pass interference penalty, Bowman logged a pass defense that led to an interception and then a pick of his own on either side of half-time. After a dire 2012 season — Hosley only played 116 snaps in 2013 — more displays like this one will likely see his days in New York numbered.
Hankins and Bromley Stepping In
One void to fill on defense for the Giants is the one left by Linval Joseph at defensive tackle, now plying his trade for the Vikings. Looking to make that spot their own, a couple of young defensive tackles stood up with solid displays last night. Starting, and playing every snap of the first half, Johnathan Hankins registered a hurry and a sack (nullified) while also notching a pair of stops in run defense. He made his mark early by driving inside of new Bills’ guard Chris Williams to take down Fred Jackson for a loss midway through the first stanza.
Taking over where Hankins left off, this year’s third-round pick, Jay Bromley, stood out against the Bills’ backup offensive linemen, snagging a couple of stops while making his presence felt in the passing game. Bromley, who registered a hit on the same play that Jordan Stanton managed a strip-sack on Thaddeus Lewis, also notched a pair of hurries against Cyril Richardson and Joe Unga. Early days yet but these are positive first impressions as the Giants look to replace Joseph’s presence on the interior.
Buffalo – Three Performances of Note
More of the Same fom Manuel
This is a big season for EJ Manuel and the Buffalo Bills, his injury-hit rookie season left a lot to be desired with a performance level comparable to the likes of Josh Freeman, Christian Ponder and Jimmy Clausen. There wasn’t much to go on, but what there was didn’t offer much consolation that big strides have been made ahead of Year 2. Manuel chose not to settle for simple passes and a stat line padded out by yards after the catch (as is often seen in preseason openers), but his deep shots came up empty both times.
Further to the failed deep shots was the near interception by Jacquain Williams on Manuel’s final snap in the game. Fundamentally not seeing Williams lurking underneath and reading the route, Manuel only just got away with a potential pick-six had Williams made a cleaner play on the ball. Even without the turnover, the decision, vision and execution were a poor way for Manuel to finish his short work in this game. Bills fans will be desperate to see more in the next four games to offer some optimism ahead of the regular season.
Rookie Tackles Get their Chance
With starting left tackle Cordy Glenn absent due to illness the Bills gave plenty of playing time to their newest offensive linemen. Seventh-round pick Seantrel Henderson certainly showed the on-field ability that many saw in him with a solid showing (+0.5 overall) against both the first- and second-string of the Giants’ defense. Foxed by one blitz in pass protection, Henderson otherwise kept a clean sheet and laid a couple of nice down blocks on Hankins in the ground game.
On the other side, however, second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio struggled both as a run blocker (-1.3) and as a pass protector (-2.9). Beaten quickly by Damontre Moore on his first pass-blocking assignment of the game, he didn’t recover against either Moore or undrafted free agent Kerry Wynn. Kouandijo’s highlight of the game may have been recovering a fumble after Lewis was blasted on a sack late in the fourth quarter. An inauspicious debut, to say the least.
Cohen Steals the Show
Since he entered the league with the Lions in 2008, Landon Cohen has bounced around more than a quarter of the NFL’s teams. Buffalo marks the ninth stop on his NFL tour and after a poor season with the Cowboys last year (-16.4 overall) he needs a strong preseason to get another go round and he certainly started well.
Signed just two weeks ago, Cohen made the most of his 21 snaps, dominating against the run (+3.5) while adding a sack late in the third quarter that was nullified by an illegal contact penalty. Second-year guard John Sullen was his chief victim last night with the young Giants’ interior offensive line often unable to cope with Cohen’s burst, allowing him to seemingly live in the New York backfield whenever they ran the ball.
– The No. 4 pick from May’s draft, Sammy Watkins, was targeted twice on his NFL debut. Overthrown down the left sideline after getting some late separation on Prince Amukamara, Watkins was the would-be target on Jacquain Williams’ near interception.
– Justin Pugh showed the profit of hitting the weight room in the offseason with some powerful run blocking (+1.7), notably clearing a path for Andre Williams’ touchdown run with a dominant effort on Corbin Bryant.
– The loss of Kiko Alonso will sting the Bills in coverage, but Nigel Bradham’s brief performance (+2.3, two stops on 12 snaps) offered a reminder as to why we named him the Bills’ Secret Superstar back in May.
PFF Game Ball
Celebrating his 28th birthday in style, Landon Cohen laid down an early marker for a roster spot in what looks like a very crowded battle for defensive line depth behind Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams.