Giants vs. Steelers: What to Watch For in the Preseason opener

On Saturday night the New York Giants will kick off their preseason schedule on the road against Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers.  While the outcome of preseason games carries little importance, there are some intriguing things to watch as both teams look to prepare their rosters for the upcoming NFL season.

Here are the most important things to keep your eye on during the Giants first preseason game.

Who will carry the ball? With Ahmad Bradshaw off somewhere on a PUP list far, far away, the Giants running back duties have shifted to the talented tandem of David Wilson and Andre Brown.  While you can expect a Bradhsaw/Jacobs-esk split from the two backs, with Wilson getting the bulk of the carries, the important thing to look out for is which of the two perform better in pass blocking.

“You really can’t play unless you can protect the quarterback,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “Fortunately, those two young men as well as our other running backs have had the opportunity to look at Ahmad’s film and get a better understanding of the complexities of our protection packages. Those two guys are very, very fast and very skilled, and we definitely believe in the balance theory. To play great football, we’re going to have to run the ball.”

If Wilson shows he can stay on the field for three downs, he could emerge as a star. No Giants back in recent memory has been as explosive a runner as he is.

Can the D-line get to the quarterback? Jason Pierre-Paul is recovering from offseason back surgery and may not be ready for week 1, Osi Umenyiora is in Atlanta, and Justin Tuck struggled last season.  Anything else?  Some have expressed concern over whether or not this years defensive line can play up the level most have come to expect out of the Giants front four.  While the concerns are certainly valid, a deeper look at the Giants defensive line, should make Giants fans very comfortable with this years group.

Expect a big time season out of Mathias Kiwanuka, as he is moving back up to the line after a couple of years in the linebacking corps. Justin Tuck continues to say that he is rejuvenated after two tough injury plagued seasons. If Tuck, who’s in the final year of his contract, looks anything like his old self this year, he and the team will benefit dramatically. Of course the most important success factor for the Giants defensive line rests on the back of Jason Pierre-Paul.  If JPP can make a full recovery, as expected, this could be one of the better defensive lines in the NFL this season.  Also keep your eye on Cullen Jenkins, who the Giants brought in this off-season to add some extra depth, and should wind up as a big part of the rotation.

Can Prince Amukamara emerge as a top flight CB?

After being hampered by injuries during his first two years as a pro this is definitely a “put up, or shut up” year for Amukamara.  Every indication out of training camp is that Prince has looked great and is on the verge of a breakout season for the Giants.  Of all the players in Giants training camp I actually believe that Amukamara may be the most important.  Last season the Giants secondary struggled, which was a big reason the team missed the playoffs just one year after hoisting their second Lombardi trophy in 4 years.  If Prince can elevate his game to the next level the Giants secodary should take a huge step in the right direction this season.

Amukamara said his goal is to play well enough that he’s able to stay on one side and Webster on the other side of the field for the whole game, rather than having Webster assigned to the other team’s No. 1 receiver regardless of where he lines up. The coaches say that’s their goal for their cornerbacks as well, and Amukamara’s strong camp is leading them to believe they can play that way.

Linebackers

Linebacker is probably the postion with the most question marks.  With no big names at the position the Giants are hoping that their group of linebackers can step up and make some plays this season.  Spencer Paysinger is making a case for the starting spot at weakside linebacker, with Keith Rivers on the strong side and Mark Herzlich in the middle.  Who will play week one is not as much of  the question as opposed to how they will play.  It will be interesting to see how this group looks on Saturday against the Steelers in Pittsburgh.

Impact Rookies

Surprisingly the rookie poised to make the biggest impact for the Giants could be second-rounder Johnathan Hankins, who looks like he could be a valuable part of the rotation at defensive tackle. Third-rounder Damontre Moore has shown that he should at least be a situational pass-rusher at this point, after showing great instincts early in camp. First-round pick Justin Pugh has had to miss some time with a concussion, but when he has been on the field Pugh has shown the versatility to play either guard or tackle, which is a big reason the Giants took the Syracuse lineman in the first round.  Although he wont sniff the field during the regular season, it should be interesting to see how rookie quarterback Ryan Nassib performs in his first real NFL action.

Giants Preseason Game 1

Saturday, Aug. 10

New York Giants vs. Pittsburgh Steelers from Heinz field

7:30 p.m. ET on NFL Network/4NY/WCBS 880 AM

Topics: Andre Brown, Davis Wilson, Eli Manning, FanSided, Giants Steelers, Hakeem Nicks, Justin Pugh, New York Giants, NY Giants, NY Giants Preseason Schedule, Pittsburgh Steelers, Rueben Randle, Si.com, Sports Illustrated, Victor Cruz

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