It's dress rehearsal time in Baltimore tonight. First off, no live blog because I'll be addressing some other issues. But you guys don't need me to tell you how important this one is, especially with some of the injury stuff the Giants have been going through.
As we noted yesterday, there's a small battalion of Giants who won't play in this game. But who will play, and where, is just as important. Starters go three quarters tonight and, aside from perhaps two series against New England in Thursday's finale, wrap up their preseason. Also, five guys as yet unknown to us will be cut after this game.
Some things to watch:
* Eli Manning makes his return after missing the Pittsburgh game with that Grand Canyon-sized gouge in his head. He's got a new helmet, seemed comfortable during the practice week, and should have no problems taking the whole three quarters. He needs it. He'll want to work out his timing with Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, and Derek Hagan, something that has been limited to one quarter of play so far. Don't be surprised, either, if outstanding rookie prospect Victor Cruz gets a shot with Manning. As long as Eli tells everybody what his plans are -- it was his decision to change the play without advising his teammates that caused Week 1's collision -- he should get everything accomplished.
* Chris Snee is back at right guard. Rich Seubert is back, but not at left guard. He'll start at center for injured Shaun O'Hara. The bet here is that the game Seubert will do a credible job, but it will still be interesting to see how the inside blocking holds up. It shouldn't be too bad, since David Diehl has played at left guard before. Guy Whimper and Mitch Petrus will rotate in there if Diehl switches out to left tackle for Will Beatty.
* Tim Brown of Rutgers is only 5-foot-8, but Tom Coughlin likes his kickoff return potential. He'll probably get a good shot tonight after Andre Brown finishes his work. The little guy had better point himself upfield and go, since this is virtually his only shot at making the team.
* Punter Matt Dodge must show the consistency he has been lacking throughout the preseason. It's getting to the point where the coaches will get awful worried if he shanks one, especially if that one comes from behind his own goal line. They have made no moves to bring in a punter, but the funny thing about those guys is that punters come a dime a dozen. You can bring one in anytime and put him right to work. Dodge should keep that in mind as he thinks hangtime and direction rather than line-drive distance. A bad showing here could force the Giants to pull the trigger on him.
* Keith Bulluck played outside linebacker all week after taking the beginning of training camp in the middle. That could mean they've lost faith in Clint Sintim. Or it could be just a move to increase versatility and interchangeability. As a matter of fact, stay alert for any and all substitution patterns. Perry Fewell has put everybody everywhere, playing defensive ends inside, defensive tackles outside, and standing up defensive ends as linebackers. Osi Umenyiora took a couple of plays at linebacker Wednesday. DE Dave Tollefson played inside part of the same practice, and CB Corey Webster looked to be playing a safety position for a couple of plays. Fewell has experimented with having three defensive tackles on the front as well as three defensive ends. This could be a first, good look at a true mix-and-match, situation-based defense.
Interesting stuff all around.