They keep calling it the final dress rehearsal, but if the leading man does not have almost all of his major supporting actors with him on stage, what meaningful suggestions and corrections can be gleaned out of this run-through?
The show must go on, and, no matter who Daniel Jones currently has out there with him to throw to and hand the ball to, the curtain goes up for real in two weeks. That is when the critics in earnest get to review the handiwork the Giants put together in the offseason.
As the Giants close out their preseason Sunday night against the Patriots at MetLife Stadium, in what will be Jones’ first appearance in a preseason game this season, there is no reason to believe, based on the evidence presented thus far this summer, they will be ready or able to throw a 30-point game at the Broncos on Sept. 12. Can they get to 27, or 24, or even 21? There is no indication the answer is leaning toward the affirmative.
The thrust ever since 2020 ended with a record of 6-10 was to upgrade the talent and playmakers around Jones, allowing the entire Giants organization to see what the 24-year-old quarterback, entering his third NFL season, can be with a stronger cast of characters around him.
Tall target Kenny Golladay was signed in free agency. Elusive slot receiver Kadarius Toney was taken in the first round of this year’s draft. Veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph, potent as a red-zone threat, was added. John Ross, a speedster looking to fulfill his promise after a wasteful experience with the Bengals, was given a shot.
These newcomers, mixed in with returning receivers Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton and tight end Evan Engram, would be manna from heaven to Jones, allowing him to escape the desert of last season’s parched offense, which ranked 31st in scoring.
But wait, there’s more. The return of running back Saquon Barkley, coming off reconstructive knee surgery, would inject the attack with a special quality to take the entire operation to a higher level.
It all sounded wonderful. The grand plan went awry this summer and, in preseason game No. 3, none of the new or healing offensive weaponry will be on the field with Jones. Kudos to the healthy holdovers, Shepard and Slayton, for grinding out an entire training camp unscathed.
They will be out there for the Giants, as coach Joe Judge wants to play his starters on both sides of the ball at least through the first half. Golladay, Toney, Ross, Rudolph and Barkley will not be, though. Their absence in this game will be long-forgotten as long as some of them can make it to the game that counts in 14 days.
“I know those guys are working hard to get back,’’ Jones said. “We’re focused on improving as a group and getting ready for Week 1.’’
It could turn out that Week 1 features an offensive that looks too much like the group that ended the 2020 season. Golladay, out since Aug. 3 with a strained hamstring, has not yet returned to practice. Toney, out since Aug. 13 with a hamstring issue and also dealing with post-COVID-19 reconditioning, has not yet returned to practice. Ross, out since Aug. 9 with an injured hamstring, has not yet returned to practice. Rudolph, coming off foot surgery, participated for the first time in individual drills Wednesday in the first joint practice with the Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. Barkley on Aug. 9 was taken off the physically unable to perform list and was given his first snaps in a team drill Thursday.
Which of these offensive threats will be ready in two weeks? Best guesstimate: Golladay, though he had very little time to develop much chemistry with Jones. Barkley (for limited reps). Rudolph is not expected to be a go on opening day. Ross might have to go on injured reserve. Toney? He is the most difficult to figure out. It is difficult to envision him getting meaningful snaps the first few weeks of the season, given the setbacks he has already encountered.
For this final tuneup, at least Jones will have his starting offensive line — minus left guard Shane Lemieux, who is dealing with a knee issue and probably will sit out again. As long as Jones is protected and there is a semblance of a running game, the Giants will get something out of this, despite once again not having the playmakers the team assembled for him.
“Just to get out there, be comfortable, move the ball and score points, like any game,’’ Jones said of his goals for the preseason finale. “Execute football plays and move the ball down the field and score. Be efficient and execute as an offense.’’