Offensive line, rushing attack in spotlight against Jets

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It’s the New York Giants vs. New York Jets on Saturday evening. It’s for bragging rights in the city.

OK, not really. It’s the preseason. Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall are almost certainly not playing, and neither team will keep its starters on the field for the entire game.

The third preseason game is more for fine-tuning and evaluating talent on the roster bubble. Each team has more than a few players whose performance could dictate their fate this season.

With all that in mind, here’s what I’ll be watching from the Giants:

The offense

It hasn’t been pretty so far in the preseason. The Giants have run 24 plays for 84 yards in five drives with quarterback Eli Manning on the field. They’ve played eight series and produced 106 totals yards behind the starting offensive line, and starting running back Paul Perkins has 13 yards on 11 carries. That’s not all that encouraging.

It wouldn’t be cause for concern if a lot of the same problems that plagued the Giants last season – especially the lack of a run game – hadn't resurfaced in the preseason. And now they’ll face a stiff test against a Jets defense that has a strong line.

The Giants want to see something positive out of their offense, especially out of their run game. It's going to be hard to fully evaluate their passing attack without Beckham and Marshall.

“I am looking for getting in a little bit of a rhythm,” coach Ben McAdoo said. “We want to take care of the ball. That’s important to us. We want to play with some physicality, complete the ball and just get a little bit better. Find a way to make some gains this week.”

They don’t need to move the ball up and down the field with ease every time they touch the ball. That’s going to be tough with Sterling Shepard, Roger Lewis and Travis Rudolph as the top three wide receivers. That's not exactly the type of firepower they expect to have on the field this season. The Giants just need to reach the end zone for the first time this year and provide a shred of optimism for the offense.

Backup QB

It’s coming down to the final two preseason games with Geno Smith vs. Josh Johnson. The backup quarterback job can presumably be won in these contests. If McAdoo continues to alternate as he has done all summer, it’s Johnson’s turn to get the first crack at playing on Saturday. He could get the third quarter with Smith receiving his opportunity in the fourth.

Johnson needs to be more decisive than he was in the preseason opener when even he admitted to holding onto the ball too long a couple plays. Smith needs to avoid the costly turnovers. He officially has two interceptions in three quarters in the preseason, with a third being negated by penalty. It’s hard to win a job if that pattern continues.

Darian Thompson

The second-year player is slated to be the starter at free safety. He has taken almost all the snaps with the first-team defense this summer. The results have been encouraging. Thompson played most of the first half against the Steelers in the preseason opener and was in and out most of the first half against the Browns (he was dealing with an illness and needed an IV). This will be his longest stint yet Saturday against the Jets, with the Giants’ starters expected to play into the third quarter. This will provide the longest look at Thompson and what he can add to the defense this year. We already seem to know that B.J. Goodson will be an upgrade at middle linebacker. Knowing Thompson will be an upgrade at free safety gives more reason for excitement about the defense.

TE competition

Right now this is one of the toughest positions to predict. The Giants have Rhett Ellison and Evan Engram working with the first-team offense. Behind them are Jerell Adams, Will Tye and Matt LaCosse. Adams was a sixth-round pick last year and has looked good this summer. LaCosse and Tye have had their moments as well. Strong performances in this week's game could make the difference.

How many tight ends do the Giants keep? That’s likely contingent on whether they keep a fullback. Who will be the odd-man out if they only have four tight ends on the final roster? This Saturday against the Jets could go a long way in telling how this plays out.

Shaun Draughn

The offseason signee could appear in his first game as a Giant after missing much of the summer with an ankle injury. Judging by his workload at practice this week, it appears Draughn will play against the Jets. He needs to prove valuable on special teams and as a versatile running back to secure a spot on the roster. Five running backs (Perkins, Shane Vereen, Orleans Darkwa, Wayne Gallman and Draughn) is definitely a possibility. The Giants had five on the roster last season.