Giants in deep trouble if Manning gets hurt

Concerned Giants fans can find comfort in the plight of Browns diehards. It's not too early to place Cleveland in the NFL's low-rent district. This is a team that would fall short of .500 if the entire Patriots coaching staff ran it.

Romeo Crennel's Browns could only hope those lightning bolts during the Giants game had magically produced some talent. All the Browns' 17-14 win did was serve as a reminder to the dangers of grading preseason games.

So we must express caution in getting too excited or too disgusted over the way the Giants played. One statistic worth our derision, though, is the team's 15 penalties for 121 yards. No team, whether you're local Pop Warner outfit or the Giants, has an excuse for losing more than 100 yards in penalties.

Maybe the worst penalty of them all was the delay of game on quarterback Jesse Palmer, effectively ending a series deep in the Giants end. Palmer remains the favorite to continue as Eli Manning's backup. But Palmer didn't exactly solidify his position against the Browns. In fact, Tim Hasselbeck should be the second-stringer on Sept. 11 if he continues to outplay Palmer in similar fashion in preseason games.

Hasselbeck showed an ability to escape pressure and throw on the run, as he did in hitting Ataveus Cash on a 9-yard touchdown hookup. Of course it came against second- and third-string players, many of who will be hawking memorabilia on eBay next month. But Palmer wasn't exactly facing the '85 Bears himself.

The knock on Hasselbeck is his accuracy. But let's face it, Palmer, much as he knows the team's system, hasn't distinguished himself as a backup with starting-quarterback skills.

Either way, the Giants are in deep trouble if Manning gets hurt. He survived the Browns game and, at times, prospered. He threw a perfect ball on the 20-yard TD pass to Plaxico Burress in the corner of the end zone. Manning threaded it high and outside of Burress where only he could get it. Burress used his 6-5 frame to bring it down.

Manning mostly kept his feet quiet in the pocket. He reminded us of his deft Peyton-like, play-action skills. But like Peyton early in his career, Eli has a bad habit of tapping the ball several times with his left hand before releasing. All in all, grade Manning a solid B.

On this night, however, the most exciting player wearing a Giants uniform was behemoth back Brandon Jacobs, the 6-4, 266-pound brute that, somehow, has filled the shoes of Ron Dayne. Jacobs quickly showed that his only resemblance to Dayne is the No. 27 he wore during his dreadful Giants career.

Unlike Dayne, who did some of his best work in preseason games; Jacobs will be productive when the real thing starts. Jacobs, again unlike Dayne, would just as soon leave cleat marks on the chests of defenders as he would try to dust them with jukes. He went for 73 yards on 12 carries, at least half those yards coming after first contact.

The Giants finally have a short-yardage and goal-line back to ease the burden on Tiki Barber. Coughlin desperately wanted Dayne to fill that role last season, to the point of prolonging a flawed experiment, before finally pointing Dayne to his favorite spot on the bench.

You can't underestimate Jacobs' value. He not only will help advance the team's woeful third- and fourth-and-short conversion rate. But Jacobs will alleviate some of Barber's wear and tear from short-yardage runs. Jacobs can spell Barber regardless of the situation, saving tread on Tiki's 30-year-old wheels.

The Giants' play on defense was less encouraging. Tackle Fred Robbins apparently was given a room in Coughlin's doghouse, running with the third team despite fresh off a decent season. Coughlin is going to need Robbins, because any combination of William Joseph, Kenderick Allen, Kendrick Clancy or Damane Duckett doesn't cut it at defensive tackle.

Once again the secondary dropped potential interceptions, a problem that has dogged the Giants for at least two seasons. Shaun Williams and rookie Corey Webster were the culprits. Backup safety Curry Burns lost sight of his receiver on a 19-yard TD catch. Frank Walker was nailed for holding. All of them are mistakes that can ultimately decide games.

The best news is that this wasn't a real game or, should we say, a game for real. But habits, good and bad, are formed early.

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