Patriots Look to Wrap Up Preseason Against Giants

Wes Welker may have scored a touchdown against the Lions, but his neck injury will likely keep him and most of the other Patriot starters from Thursday's preseason finale against the Giants. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)

The 2-1 New England Patriots will finish their preseason Thursday night at Gillette against the 2-0 New York Giants. It will be the seventh consecutive Patriots preseason concluded with the Giants. The Giants beat the Patriots 20-17 last season at the New Meadowlands Stadium.

It’s been a Jekyll and Hyde preseason for the Patriots. They looked fantastic in their first two games, crushing the Jaguars with their reserves and the Buccaneers with their starters. Against the Lions – a team that ranks first in the league in passing and total yards per game, and second in the NFC in points allowed per game – they looked dreadful. Which team will show up Thursday?

Giants Not as Scary as Lions

The Giants do not pack quite the same punch the Lions did. Their defense is mediocre, ranking them in the nebulous middle of the pack in most categories. They’ve only recorded five sacks, lacking the dynamic pass rush that helped them derail the Patriots’ undefeated season in Super Bowl XLII.

New York’s offense is not much better than their defense. The Patriots average 29.3 points per game, whereas the Giants average just 18. Both teams have almost identical running games (134.7 yards per game vs. 134.0, 5.2 yards per carry vs. 4.43), but quarterback Eli Manning is having a terrible preseason: less than 50 percent completion rate, zero touchdowns to two interceptions, a 51.6 QB rating that ranks 29th among 30 qualified QBs. Tom Brady, by contrast, has a 3-1 touchdown-interception ratio and an 89.8 rating in two games.

Brady may not play as much as Manning will, since the Giants will be playing their “all-important” third game and the Patriots their “less important” fourth. Even if that’s the case, fear not: Ryan Mallett is completing almost 64 percent of his passes.

Resting Starters, Final Tryouts for Backups

Wes Welker‘s neck injury during the Lions game probably scared Bil Belichick enough that he won’t play any starters longer than he absolutely has to. Though some extra reps for Chad Ochocinco (just two receptions so far, though one was a touchdown) would be helpful, Belichick is likely banking on Ochocinco’s experience and muscle memory snapping him back into form when they open up the season on Sept. 11.

Thirty names still need to be cut from the Patriots roster before the season begins, and this will be many players’ last chance to prove they should stay. Stevan Ridley (team-high 148 rushing yards) has likely done enough to make the team, but Richard Medlin‘s lone one-yard rush against the Giants may leave him still on the bubble, even if he also showed some receiving aptitude (five catches, 27 yards).

Brandon Tate‘s speed, meanwhile, has been almost completely neutralized by the new kickoff rules, leaving him vulnerable to Matthew Slater (two catches of more than 40 yards in three weeks) and Taylor Price (105 yards against the Jaguars).

The War of the Cornerbacks also has yet to be decided. Kyle Arrington‘s two interceptions and sack has probably at least earned him a reserve spot on the 53-man roster. but Ras-I Dowling needs to show a bit more if he wants to at least make the practice squad. And given how quickly safeties seem to come and go with the Patriots, it’s anyone’s guess who’ll wind up starting at those positions.

The only veteran who might still have something to prove is Albert Haynesworth, who has yet to play in a preseason game. Haynesworth doesn’t get paid unless he makes the final roster, and without any games it would take a monumental practice effort to keep him on the team.

The Patriots aren’t deep at defensive end, but they are very deep at linebacker. Jerod Mayo (12 tackles, two sacks) and veteran Niko Koutouvides (two sacks) lead the way, but Dane Fletcher looks set to up right where he left off at the end of last season. Another second-year Patriot, Darryl Richard, also has two sacks this season.

New England’s suddenly quick and aggressive pass-rush has been the biggest surprise this preseason. Now they just need to implement it during the regular season.