What do you think fans who root for and athletes who play for the Bills and Redskins think when they look ahead to the first month of the regular season and see a game on the schedule at the Giants?
“That is a road game we can win.”
How do you suspect the Buccaneers view their Week 3 home matchup with the Giants?
“That is a home game we should win.”
There is no doubt this September gives the Giants a chance to steer clear of the terrible starts that sabotaged their season the past two years — 0-5 in 2017 and 0-2 that turned into 1-7 in 2018. Facing the Cowboys, Bill, Buccaneers and Redskins means the Giants can, fairly realistically, be 3-1 and must be at least 2-2 if they are to operate on the fringe of any semblance of playoff contention as the temperature drops and the heat rises on coach Pat Shurmur to replace Eli Manning with Daniel Jones.
When Shurmur, following the 32-13 preseason victory over the Backup Bears, said, “We’ve got a little different team than some,’’ he opened the shade and let some light in as to what these Giants are all about. The Bears sat all their starters and Shurmur played his first-unit players, keeping offensive centerpieces Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram in bubble wrap but sending everyone else out onto the field.
“We have a lot of young guys,’’ Shurmur said. “We have to see if they can take it from the meeting room to the practice field and then play hard out here with emotion.’’
On some teams, the “young guys’’ deemed deserving of sticking around are luxury items or roster stuffers. On the Giants, the young guys will determine the fate of the franchise. Consider that seven of the 11 starters on defense are either rookies or unproven second- or third-year players. It is on offense where the Giants are most seasoned — not one rookie starter — and it is likely the only rookie to even be listed as No. 2 on the depth chart is Daniel Jones. And, as we all know, in the ideal scenario world envisioned by co-owner John Mara, Jones will not play at all as Manning rekindles his winning touch.
If things go south early, during the softer part of the schedule, the best-laid plans fall by the wayside, Jones gets the ball, Manning takes a seat and it becomes about development for 2020. Shurmur must do everything he can to have the Giants more than ready out of the chute. The four-game suspension levied against receiver Golden Tate does not help, but at this point, halfway through the preseason, the Giants are healthy.
Matt Nagy was named NFL Coach of the Year in his first season, thus he gets to run his Bears the way he sees fit. If that means doing the unusual — a 60-play intra-squad scrimmage two days before a preseason game — so be it. Nagy treated Friday night at MetLife Stadium as an incubator, seeing what he could hatch for the back end of his roster as he kept every one of his starting players on the bench.
“Every team is different, and that’s OK,’’ Nagy said. “Each coach has their own plan with their own team as far as where they’re at depth-wise. We love where we’re at right now in regards to our starters.’’
Shurmur needs to see more from his starters because he does not know what they can and cannot do just yet.
“Matt, that’s his team, and I would never tell another man how to coach his team,’’ Shurmur said. “He knows what he wants to do, and he knows what his team needs. He has a much more veteran team that whatever he’s doing with them, works for him.’’
Back when Shurmur was an assistant with the Eagles, the makeup of the team was mostly veterans in their 30s, and preparing for the season ahead was a different deal.
For decades, the third preseason game was closest to the real thing, with starters often playing into the third quarter. Shurmur scoffed at the “dress rehearsal’’ tag often assigned to this game, coming for the Giants on Thursday night in Cincinnati.
“People are starting to divert their opinions as to the importance of playing your players in the preseason games,’’ Shurmur said.
Shurmur, however the groundwork is laid, has to get his team ready to go, because a sluggish opening act this year will lead to a curtain close that no one around the franchise wants to experience, once again, before Halloween.
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