BEREA, Ohio — Sometimes (actually, quite often) when a playoff-caliber team practices against a team regularly absent from the postseason it is easy to spot which is which. It is obvious, readily apparent. There are the haves and the have nots.
The best thing the Giants can glean from Thursday’s businesslike joint practice with the Browns is that the dichotomy between the home team and the visiting team was not stark. This is not to say the Giants, 6-10 last season, got the better of the Browns, who went 11-5 in 2020 and are unquestionably on the rise. Sure, Baker Mayfield and the Browns’ offense certainly looked more polished than Daniel Jones and his crew. No surprise there. But more often than not, the Giants held up quite well, a good sign that their roster is coming along.
“This a good measuring stick for us, coming out here and competing against a formidable foe,’’ safety Jabrill Peppers said after the two-hour session at the Browns’ practice facility. “They’re tough, big, hard-nosed, they want to run the ball, I definitely think it’s a good measuring stick.’’
The worst part for the Giants was the last part of the afternoon, featuring a two-minute drill for each side. The Browns scored on an extended drive, the Giants did not even come close, going three-and-out.
On defense, the Giants were hit early on the drive, with Mayfield finding Jarvis Landry open against cornerback Darnay Holmes, then gaining yardage on a Kareem Hunt screen. The next play was whistled dead after it was deemed that Lorenzo Carter would have sacked Mayfield. Landry beat Holmes again for a first down, but on third down from the Giants’ 19-yard line, Mayfield rolled to his right and floated a pass into the end zone that was just out of the reach of safety Julian Love, but not out of the reach of Rashard Higgins, who leaped to make the grab, triggering a Browns celebration.
There is a caveat to this, though: Outside linebacker Trent Harris beat tackle Jack Conklin on the play. In a real game, that quite likely would have resulted in a sack, or at least would have made Mayfield think twice about planting and throwing.
“I know we definitely have to not let him come down with the ball,’’ Peppers said.
“We will have to look at the tape,’’ Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. “I was right there. I was very close to blowing that dead for a sack. It very well could have been a sack.”
The Giants’ offense got its turn — and it turned out short and sour.
Jones was sacked on first down. Next came a short completion to Evan Engram. Then, on third and long, Jones threw deep over the middle and was intercepted by rookie safety Greg Newsome II, the Browns’ first-round pick out of Northwestern.
“We got to stay on the field there,’’ Engram said. “Got to start better, first play, got to keep it moving, get in a rhythm, got to stay on the field.
“Play one is always crucial, we got to be better in protection, got to get open quicker. There’s something everyone can do better.’’
That sack was not indicative of the work of the Giants’ offensive line most of the day. Tackles Andrew Thomas and Matt Peart did not have to contend with Myles Garrett or Jadevon Clowney — they are both dealing with injuries and did not practice — and, for the most part, the line was able to move bodies out of the way in the running game. On one play, left guard Shane Lemieux lost his helmet and a good surge netted Devontae Booker a 6-yard gain.
There was one ingredient missing from Day 1 of this two-day joint practice: Anything resembling a fight.
Giants coach Joe Judge and Strefanski are buddies from their days playing quarterback in high school in suburban Philadelphia and they were completely on the same page in terms of what they wanted to see — and not see — on the field. The leaders on both teams alerted their teammates.
“We don’t have to get on a plane and fly cross-country to come get in a fist fight,’’ Judge said. “We’re out here to play football against a good team and improve what we’re doing as a team.’’
“We had our fights already for camp,’’ safety Logan Ryan said. “Joe made it clear we’re not going to be doing that. I don’t think the intensity was close to that level to get to that.’’
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