Quarterback Eli Manning said this week that he believes the New York Giants’ struggling offense has “ just hit a little bump.” You could argue that it’s more than a “bump,” that it is really a sink hole they fell into at the start of the season and have been unable to climb out of.
The Giants are scoring only 17.8 points per game, 27th in the league, and have failed to reach the 20-point plateau in three of their five games. This week, the Giants’ offense faces another difficult challenge in a Baltimore Ravens’ defense ranked among the league’s best. Let’s break down the keys to this matchup.
By the numbers
Points per game: 17.8 (27th)
Yards per game: 349.6 (19th)
Passing yards per game: 266.0 (11th)
Rushing yards per game: 83.6 (27th)
Rushing yards per attempt: 3.80 (21st)
Passing: Eli Manning (119-of-187, 63.6 percent, 1,385 yards, 5 TDs, 4 INTs, 86.0 passser rating)
Receiving: Odell Beckham (27 catches, 345 yards, 13.3 yards per catch 1 TD)
Rushing: Shane Vereen (31 carries, 147 yards, 4.7 yards per carry); Rashad Jennings (31 carries, 102 yards, 3.3 yards per carry); Orleans Darkwa (30 carries, 111 yards, 3.7 yards per carry, 2 TDs)
Points allowed per game: 17.6 (7th)
Yards allowed per game: 266.8 (3rd)
Passing yards allowed per game: 190.8 (5th)
Rushing yards allowed per game: 76.0 (4th)
Sacks: Terrell Suggs (4), Timmy Jernigan (3)
Two weeks ago, the Giants were shut down by the Minnesota Vikings, who possess one of the league’s most dominant defenses. Last week, the Green Bay Packers presented the Giants with the league’s best run defense. The numbers above show that the Giants once again face a challenge from one of the league’s premier defensive units.
Why can’t the Giants pass the ball?
With a trio of wide receivers as talented and explosive as Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz, along with a 13-year veteran, two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback in Eli Manning, it seems incomprehensible that the Giants would be struggling with their passing attack. But they are.
Manning has completed just 53.8 percent of his passes the past two weeks after completing 71 percent in the Giants’ two season-opening victories. He was only 7-of-22 for 70 yards last Sunday throwing to Beckham, Shepard and Cruz, although Beckham did get his first touchdown catch of the season. Manning has not completed a pass of longer than 16 yards to a wide receiver in the past two games.
There has been a great deal of chatter about teams playing two high safeties against the Giants, both chocking off the deep ball and clogging the passing lanes on the slants and in-breaking routes the Giants like to rely on.
“Same thing over and over again. Two-high safety, six in the box. They’re just making it difficult,” Beckham said.
“There is definitely stuff that beats it. We had stuff that should have beaten it, but we didn’t execute well enough. So it is not that it stopped us, it is just a matter of holding the ball a little longer because it takes away a lot of your slants and it takes away some of your quick game,” Manning said earlier in the week. “You should be able to run the ball against it and we had some stuff to get open, we just didn’t execute well enough on those plays and convert on them, so we just have to understand that teams are going to play us certain ways and again, we had answers for it, that is not the problem, it is just still a matter of execution.”
Coach Ben McAdoo said after the loss to the Packers that the Giants understand how teams are playing them, and know what they need to do to counter-act it.
“We went in with a plan for cover 2, it is just that we are seeing a steady diet of it right now and when there are two high safeties you have to run the ball better and you have to have some time to complete the ball. It takes a little bit of time to complete the ball whether it is two man or two zone,” he said. “It is kind of a combination of everything. The run game was not great last night. We did have a couple runs come out, but it is a combination of everything. It is not just one thing. It is just not cover 2, it is a combination.”
Whether it is by formation or route concept the Giants need to do some things differently in their passing game to make sure their primary play makers — Beckham, Shepard and Cruz — are getting opportunities to make plays.
“Our pass game needs to improve, whether it is depth of routes, whether it is spacing, stair steps, the quarterback sitting in there and making accurate throws – we need to finish some throws and come up with some contested plays,” McAdoo said. “It isn’t just one area; it is a little bit of everything combined there.”
It will also help, of course, if Manning is able to shake off a rough couple of weeks. Despite the offensive struggles, there have been plays to be made. Manning and the offense simply haven’t made them. Things might look much different for the Giants if they had.
“I didn’t play as well as I needed to last week. I missed some throws,” Manning said. “So I need to play better, I have to make some more throws, better decisions, can’t turn the ball over, but we will improve. We will keep working hard and we will figure it out.”
They certainly need to. Quickly.
What’s with the running game?
The Giants ran the ball only 15 times for 43 yards (2.9 yards per carry) against the Packers. Let’s acknowledge, though, that the Packers entered the game surrendering a league-best 1.8 yards per carry. Before that, though, even without Rashad Jennings and Shane Vereen, the Giants had done OK on the ground. Against the Minnesota Vikings, another top-drawer defense, the Giants got 18 carries and 78 yards out of the combination of Orleans Darkwa, Bobby Rainey and Paul Perkins.
The disconcerting thing against Green Bay on Sunday was that the Packers kept two high safeties with a minimum number of players to defend the run, and the Giants were still unsuccessful getting anything done on the ground.
“It comes down to blocking. We need to block, we need to stay engaged, we need to finish better,” McAdoo said. “The backs need to see it clean and put their shoulders down and knock a hole through it.”
Truthfully, the Giants get hurt on the ground because they don’t have a fullback or true blocking tight end on the roster. On more than 90 percent of their plays they are also lining up with three smallish wide receivers who aren’t really going to give them a whole lot of help in run-blocking on the edges.
Still, the Giants need to have more successful running plays. They also need to do a better job sticking with the run when it works, as it did against the Washington Redskins (21 carries, 120 yards, 5.7 yards per carry) and against the Vikings.
Darkwa had two effective games (10 carries 53 yards vs. Washington and 12 carries, 48 yards vs. Minnesota) before a seven-carry, 11-yard night against Green Bay.
“The type of games we've been in the last two games. We had a chance to have a couple of runs come out in Minnesota. We got some nice runs in Green Bay; they're a tough team to run against, they defend the run well. They're top in the league and we're going to have another big challenge this week,” McAdoo said. “They (Ravens) do a nice job against the run. They're ranked high in a lot of categories and they are a physical, thick unit. So, we have our work cut out for us.”
A little pass protection, please!
Manning has certainly missed some throws recently, especially against the Packers. Still, part of what has happened is that in games against two good defensive lines the Giants’ pass protection has not been good enough.
McAdoo said “the pocket was hot” Sunday against Green Bay. Manning was sacked three times and Odell Beckham was sacked once on an attempted reverse pass. Per Pro Football Focus, Manning was pressured 17 times in 39 drop backs against Green Bay, or 43.5 percent of the time.
Left tackle Ereck Flowers (a sack, six pressures) and right tackle Bobby hart (a sack, two hits, four hurries) were abysmal. Flowers compounded the issue to having an altercation with a reporter after the game.
Will the Giants make any changes on the offensive line this week, either for disciplinary reasons with Flowers or performance reasons with either Flowers or Hart?
McAdoo on Wednesday said vaguely that Flowers “started at left tackle today” and that “All seven guys are working right now and we compete for jobs each and every week.”
The Giants will have their hands full against Ravens’ edge rushers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. A five-time Pro Bowler, the 34-year-old Suggs has 110 career sacks, including a team-high four so far this season. Dumervil, working his way back from offseason foot surgery, has played sparingly in two games and has no sacks as of yet. Still, he has four double-digit sack seasons in a 10-year career so he is an obvious threat. On the interior, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan has pushed the pocket enough to garner three sacks this season.
“Obviously, you can have people chip them and try to get the ball out quick,” Manning said. “You have to run the ball, but there is going to be some one on one where your tackles are going to have to block those two guys and hold up and so we have to win those one on one matchups.”
Which translates to this — the Giants’ offensive tackles are going to have to play better.