Coming in to the 2016 season the New York Giants were known for their offense. The combination of Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. had consistently produced pyrotechnic results for the first two years of Ben McAdoo’s time with the Giants.
The defense, on the other hand, had been poor at best, and abysmal at worst.
So it was expected that the offense would carry the teams as the revamped defense resolved into a cohesive unit. Perhaps predictably, it was the offense that struggled while the defense was stout.
The last two weeks in particular, against the Minnesota Vikings’ top-ranked defense and the Green Bay Packers, the offense slumped to a new low. So the questions came to offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan after two prime time flops: ‘What’s wrong with the offense?’
“It has been disappointing,” Sullivan said, “you're absolutely right and there's a wide variety of reasons for that. I think you can point to a good job that the defenses have done. There's some talented teams with a good scheme. I think secondly, what it comes down to from our standpoint, it always seems to be one little thing that's missing. There may be instances where we have really good protection and the right execution, that's where we want it to be, and maybe we don't quite make the throw or maybe we have excellent and in the protection there's a little bit of a break down. Or, maybe we have the protection, it's a great throw but we're not where we need to be on the route. And then you throw on top of that some of the penalties and some of the tackles for loss that comes in here or there or certainly the turnovers. Those things have all combined to keep us from being where we want to be to have that type consistency.”
As Ed noted at the beginning of the week, the Giants’ offense goes as Eli Manning goes. So if he slumps, as he has the last two weeks, the offense slumps as a whole. How then do they get him out of it?
“I think we're always taking a hard look at the video, the tape.” Sullivan said, “What went wrong, why did it go wrong, what are things that he, as the quarterback, has control over and what are things which he has no control. You process it and there's great dialogue. Obviously we have a long history, he speaks freely and I speak freely and of course coach Cignetti and coach McAdoo. We're all in there trying to solve the puzzle. We come to conclusions, we look at how we can move forward, how we can make it better, if you will, and then we put it behind us. It's really a situation of, after that Tuesday, really getting out of the mode of the previous opponent, other than just the lessons learned, to move forward to another great challenge, which is Baltimore.”
With Manning playing at the age of 35, questions have arisen as to whether Father Time has caught up with him and we are seeing the beginning of his decline. For his part, Sullivan doesn’t think so.
“I don't think he's in decline at all.” Sullivan said, “I think he's a consummate professional. A player that is a great leader and his track record speaks for itself. While there's some disappointment, I'm sure that he has and a lot of people have as far as the last game or the last couple pf games. There's no doubt there are some throws or decisions that he might want to have back but in the same way there's situations from a coaching standpoint, things we'd like to have back. The quarterback is obviously under the microscope. There's a lot of a reasons. It's not just a matter of the reason why he wasn't successful. I wouldn’t put it all on him. I think he's looked great this week. He's focused, he's locked in, he's always going to prepare as you guys know, you've been covering him a while. He's going to be at his best when his best is needed and we really are excited about where we're headed. Looking forward to getting back on the field and have great confidence in what he's going to do for us this Sunday afternoon.”
As for the rest of the offense, Sullivan believes that they need to execute better, regardless of what the defense does to stop them.
Sullivan said “It's probably more so some of the things we're not doing and the reason I would say that is, if a team has more of a two-high configuration, you're going to see more six man boxes which from a number of standpoints ought to give us a little bit of an advantage. You look at our most recent game, some of the runs, or limitations of runs I should say, they did a great job, Green Bay that is and had a couple of tackles for loss. Then you get into the flow of a game where it's hard to keep that type of a balance, I thought we had some good runs come out of there against Minnesota. But, it really boils down to, when there's not that extra defender and we have a numbers advantage, we just have to have a consistency as far as finishing our blocks and very specific with our aiming points and the backs hitting it hard and obviously more important than anything is making sure we don't turn it over.”
Finally, one of the hallmarks of the Giants’ offense over the previous two years has been their willingness to move players all over the offensive formation, particularly Odell Beckham Jr. It’s something they have gotten away from recently, and Sullivan says they have been working to incorporate his movement back into the offense.
“There has been some movement,” Sullivan said, “maybe not as much movement in terms of the number of times they'll go in the slot, per se. You can probably, I wouldn't be able to give you the exact numbers but if you were to come up with a figure, more so last year than this year. I do think we have, particularly the past few weeks, worked on some things to try get him not just as an outside receiver but even some of the 3 by 1's, having him be the 3 receiver. It is important for a couple of reasons, obviously as teams try and have a plan to take him away to try commit to two defenders or skew their underneath coverage to him. He's a great play maker and we want to put the ball his hands so we do have to move him around. We have been working on some of that. I don't want to give away too much of the game plan or anything but obviously it's a good point and it's something that we need to be aware of. It really is predicated on trying to get him the football but also a reaction to how he's being covered.“
“I don't know if there's a deliberate reason other than,” Sullivan added, when asked why Victor Cruz hasn’t been in the slot much this year, “I think when you look at Sterling Shepard, he is very good in there. All three guys can’t play in there, and Sterling definitely has a knack, as Victor has a knack. He didn't have a whole lot of opportunities as you recall in the preseason and trying to get him more involved. I think that's definitely a good point. Given especially how teams, if there's more of a commitment to some variations of two-high safety coverages, the more latitude, the versatility I should say, to be able to move them around and have all three guys play in all three spots. Even if it's in four-wide receiver sets, sprinkle it in a little bit, having that type of versatility. It's going to help us.“