Why the Giants should be pleased, aside from Prince Amukamara

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Prince Amukamara. (nfl.com)
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Preseason games don’t count.

That’s why the “win is a win is a win” mantra validly trotted out after even the most ugly, pyrrhic regular season victories doesn’t carry weight. Last night’s game was a perfect illustration of this: The Bears may have won the game, but the Giants’ starters outplayed the Bears’ starters and left with the score in their favor. The Bears won the game, but the Giants’ starters won the day.

But because preseason games don’t count, the fact that one team badly outplayed the other is itself pretty meaningless. So when Bears kick returner Eric Weems fumbled a kick return late in the first half after running into his own man, say, it didn't matter; it was merely a reminder that the real Bears hadn't shown up. 

The most consequential tally in these games has to do with injuries, and the Giants didn’t fare well on this score.

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Prince Amukamara, a nominal starter because of an injury to expected starter Terrell Thomas, sustained a high ankle sprain, which usually takes at least one month to heal. Tom Coughlin initially described the injury as “mild,” but revised his verbiage slightly but significantly to “moderate.” Such distinctions make a big difference when the regular season is nine days away.

Amukamara himself said it was mild yesterday, and that he was feeling much better than he had Saturday. He followed that by ironically invoking an old football cliché that has taken on a particular significance for him ever since video surfaced of him getting dunked in an ice tub: “You can’t make the club in the tub.”

The upshot is that Giants fans are left hoping that a cornerback who was awful last season can somehow buck the odds and return for Week 1 as a diminished version of himself. Because even a hobbled Amukamara seems better than the journeyman behind him on the depth chart.

The guy who got first crack at replacing Amukamara was Bruce Johnson, himself returning from a torn Achilles injury last year. Johnson was promptly targeted by the Bears on three of the next four plays, the last of which was a touchdown. He gave up another touchdown later in the game and almost gave up another, though to his credit he broke up the pass. None of this should be surprising considering that Johnson was considered an adequate fill-in in his best days, and hasn’t played since mid-2010.

(CBS analyst Dan Dierdorf blamed the coverage lapse on the first tochdown on Kenny Phillips, but the always-above-and-beyond Mike Garafolo of the Star-Ledger smartly inferred that it was the fault of Johnson, who didn’t funnel Bears receiver Brandon Marshall to the inside, which would have made for a much easier task for Phillips.)

Other healthy-enough cornerbacks include Michael Coe, who turns 29 in December and has two passes defensed for his N.F.L. career; Justin Tryon, a seemingly passable option who nonetheless appears behind Johnson and Coe on the depth chart; and Antwaun Molden, the erstwhile Patriot last seen giving up five completions to Giants receivers in the Super Bowl, the last of which was a key 14-yard catch by Hakeem Nicks on the Giants’ final drive that got them down to the 18-yard-line. (UPDATE: Molden was among the Giants cut on Monday.)

So it’s touch-and-go for the Giants at cornerback until the front-line talent returns. Thomas, the presumptive starter, recently said his goal is to play in the season opener. Sources told the Daily News he’s unlikely to play until October.

Jayron Hosley, a third round draft pick who scored an electrifying touchdown on an interception return before going down with a turf toe injury, just took his walking boot off yesterday but didn’t practice.

Meanwhile, Tom Coughlin has said he doesn’t want to use Antrel Rolle in the nickel corner role he played last year, to adequate results. Depending on how quickly three of the Giants’ top cornerbacks heal, he might not have a choice.

ANOTHER DICEY SPOT FOR THE GIANTS: LEFT tackle.

It’s not that a Giants’ left tackle got injured on Friday. That happened a while ago, and presumptive starter Will Beatty is still day-to-day with a back injury that has lingered from the beginning of camp. This doesn’t inspire confidence in the season-long health of a player who has missed close to half his teams’ games in the past two years due to injury.

On Friday night, Beatty’s replacement, Sean Locklear, played poorly, whiffing on a block that allowed a tackle for a loss and then missing another one in pass protection that forced a rushed Eli Manning throw on third down.

The 31-year-old Locklear had been a serviceable player for a long time going into last year, but that time may be over. Last year, Locklear was awful in limited action. In only 292 snaps, around one quarter of starters’ snaps, he gave up four sacks and 12 quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus stats. Multiply those numbers by four, and they’re among the worst in the league. It’s seems possible-to-likely that Locklear is declining steeply as he gets into his 30s, just like Kareem McKenzie did last year. He could be decent, but he could be untenable.

An alternative to Locklear at left tackle is Dave Diehl, who manned the spot last year after Beatty got hurt and is currently playing right tackle. But the Giants would be playing with fire here: Last year, at both guard and tackle, Diehl allowed 13 sacks and a staggering 61 hurries, the latter number blowing away the rest of the league.

NOW THE GOOD NEWS: THE GIANTS' FIRST UNITS were in mid-season form. Or, because it’s the Giants, whose mid-seasons usually include the beginning of a losing streak, let’s say “post-season form.”

They outgained the Bears starters nearly 2-1 in yardage (188 to 101) in the first half, and gained 13 first downs to the Bears’ five.

Eli Manning couldn’t miss, going 17 for 21 and displaying the pocket presence and surefooted decision-making that Giants fans have come to expect from their star quarterback.

One of those four incompletions was a drop by Victor Cruz, reminding everyone of the “he giveth and he taketh” guy Kevin Gilbride called out in the middle of last season (before Cruz blew that away by staking his claim to long-term excellence).

Aside from that one drop, Cruz’s showcased his knack for getting open along with a spatial acuity that hasn’t been seen by Giants fans since Tiki Barber. The guy isn’t fast by receiver standards or physically prepossessing in any way. He’s just the best athlete in the playground.

David Wilson, on the other hand, might be the fastest guy out there. On Friday, he one-upped the high standard he has set for himself this preseason with five carries for 49 yards and two catches for 26.

Wilson showed it all: His explosive speed burst, which is his calling card; his tackle-breaking power, which announcers are going to keep pretending is news to people all season long, even though it’s obvious by watching him that he runs extremely hard, and that being 5-foot-9 doesn’t equal “finesse;” and perhaps most impressively, he displayed patience, particularly on an off-tackle run on which he waited for fullback Henry Hynoski to get to his block before accelerating for a nine-yard-gain.

The kid can play, and he will immediately, but one cautionary note: Wilson blew a blocking assignment on a third down corner blitz, causing Eli to hurriedly throw the ball away. (The play became a first down anyway on a pass interference.) For all the good things Wilson can do, it will be rendered moot if he gets Eli killed.

Ramses Barden played with rhythm and confidence for the first time in forever. He caught three passes for 46 yards and a touchdown, and then drew a pass interference penalty in the endzone that led to an easy Giants score. He still moves ponderously because of his size and he lacks aggressiveness commensurate with his size when the ball is in the air. He’ll never be the star the Giants thought they might have unearthed three years ago when they took a chance on his potential. But it looks like he has it in him to be a useful player.

LOOKED AT ONE WAY, THE GIANTS DEFENSE WAS MORE IMPRESSIVE than the offense. Of course, the Bears offense couldn’t get out of its own way, so it’s hard to determine how much Jay Cutler’s lazy mechanics (the guy’s 29 now) and blown blocks by the offensive line were caused by the Giants’ ferociousness.

But credit where credit is due to Giants defenders like Osi Umenyiora, who was as quick and disruptive as ever, providing a game-changing pass rushing presence despite the fact that he had no sacks.

Keith Rivers was all over the place last night: He led the Giants starters by being in on five tackles. More importantly, Rivers consistently covered people in pass coverage, showcasing what appears to be outstanding lateral speed. With the Week 1 fate of Michael Boley and his hamstring still up in the air, the Giants’ decision to trade a fifth-round pick for one year of Rivers looks inspired. He’s playing every bit like a guy who was the ninth overall pick in the draft four years ago.