The third preseason game used to be the big test for the starters. But that's just not the way it is anymore. Even Pat Shurmur, who believes the preseason still has value, doesn't expect to play his starters very long in Cincinnati tonight.
He said he expects things to go much like they did the first two games. That means no Saquon Barkley. No Sterling Shepard. Eli Manning will get a series, maybe two, and the starting offensive line will get that, plus maybe another series with rookie quarterback Daniel Jones. Then Jones will go until halftime.
In the second half … well, make sure to have your roster handy. You'll need it.
So with all that in mind, what's worth watching when the Giants take on the Bengals tonight? Here's a quick guide:
1. The rise of Daniel Jones
In the first game, he dazzled. In the second, he showed his resiliency. So what can he do for his second encore? If he's just as good as he's been through the first two games (16 for 19, 228 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions) the hype may reach epidemic proportions. It's not really going to matter. It's still only the preseason. And barring an injury, Manning is still on track to start opening day no matter what Jones does. But he's been fun to watch so far, and the better he plays, the more of a quarterback controversy the Giants are going to have -- even if it's more outside the building than inside (at least for now).
2. Ask, 'Who shall receive?'
Shepard is on track to be back by Opening Day, but Golden Tate will be out the first four weeks, so the Giants still need to figure out who their No. 2 and 3 receivers will be. It seems that in some order it will be Cody Latimer (4-96) and Bennie Fowler (4-45-2), but there's certainly an open door for anyone. The Giants would love it to be rookie Darius Slayton, but he's been battling a hamstring injury most of the summer and there's only a small chance that he'll play on Thursday night. T.J. Jones (9-104-2) has impressed, though it would be nice if more of his production came against the first- or second-team defenses.
3. What's the rush?
The biggest question about the Giants' defense this season will be whether they're able to put up any kind of pass rush. So far, they really haven't. There are occasional flashes, like when linebacker Markus Golden got his first sack. But unless defensive coordinator James Bettcher is holding all his pressure packages for Opening Day, it would be nice to see someone on the first team defense get close to the quarterback. They have been pushed around a little in the first two games, and the lack of a pass rush is a big reason why.
4. Cornering the market
Janoris Jenkins is one of the Giants' starting cornerbacks, but who is the other one? Heading into this season it looked like Sam Beal would be the favorite, but the supplemental pick from a year ago still can't get on the field. Figure it will be first-round pick DeAndre Baker, but he's nursing a knee injury. That certainly opens up the door real wide for Corey Ballentine, a sixth-round pick. He's been one of the most impressive players this summer, showing ability on returns and on defense. He's also a heck of a story, considering he was shot shortly after he was drafted. His best friend was killed in that incident, but he's somehow managed to move forward and thrive.
5. Who will back up Saquon (and does that even matter)?
Wayne Gallman is the veteran incumbent, so he figures to be the guy. The fact that he hasn't carried the ball much this preseason indicates his roster spot and job are not in jeopardy. But there are a few interesting players battling it out right behind him. Paul Perkins, who once was thought to be a future star running back, is trying to salvage his career and make a comeback from a torn pectoral muscle that cost him all of 2018. Former Cowboys RB Rod Smith has looked pretty good, rushing 16 times for 54 yards. It might be hard to beat out one of those veterans, but Jon Hillman, the rookie from Rutgers, looked good against the Bears, rushing 16 times for 56 yards and a touchdown. He might be more of a practice squad candidate, but the door is definitely open.