Two months ago the New York Giants knew they were in for a tough game this Sunday when the travel to take on the Denver Broncos. The Broncos boast one of the best pass defenses in the NFL to go with a vicious pass rush. That was before this past Sunday’s devastating game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
While the focus of the media’s reporting on the Giants has shifted to the drama surrounding Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the fact remains that the Giants will be without 80 percent of their opening day wide receivers when they take the field against the Broncos. That number, seems like an understatement considering one of the receivers lost for the season is Odell Beckham Jr.
Now offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan has had to deal with the reality of having to game plan for the Bronco’s defense with a completely different receiving corps from a week ago.
“Well, certainly a big loss for us and wish him [Odell Beckham Jr.] well and Brandon (Marshall) well in their recovery,” Sullivan said. “We have some young guys that have to step up, you know, guys who have had a chance to be involved in training camp and preseason and they’ll get their opportunities and we have an offense, we have a system and we just try to find the best way to give those guys a chance to be successful and play to their strengths.”
In the wake of all the injuries, Roger Lewis Jr. is now the Giants’ new “number one” receiver.
Over the winter I had the opportunity to briefly sit down with him. He told me that his main focus for the offseason was to work on his special teams play. That work paid off and punched his ticket to the final roster, and is even more important now that Dwayne Harris is lost for the season. But he also told me that he wanted to work on becoming more of a play-maker and to get in the endzone more. With so many receiving weapons out, he will have the opportunity.
“Yeah. That’s something else,” Sullivan said of Lewis. “He goes from being the fourth or fifth guy, young guy. Now he is the elder statesman. He’s a versatile player. He’s a guy that has made plays for us. Had a heck of a play the other day. He’s smart and, of course, the versatility is something that we’ll be relying upon to be able to move him around and help the other guys as well.”
Returning to the Giants’ roster, likely as their other starting receiver, is Tavarres King. King was the Giants’ primary other deep threat a season ago. He lost out in the numbers game at final cut-downs, but he brings speed, familiarity, and a veteran presence to the Giants’ suddenly shaky receiving corps.
The return of King was something that Sullivan was certainly happy to see, saying, “Great to have TK. He was someone that was on our roster last year. Obviously, had a heck of a big play against Green Bay in the playoff game last year. Didn’t work out as far as him being on the initial 53, but he’s taken good care of himself. He’s in great shape. He looks fast and, of course, his familiarity with what we do is something that we’re going to be relying upon.”
Behind Lewis and King are practice squad receivers Travis Rudolph and Ed Eagan. Rudolph was a star in preseason as he bailed out quarterbacks Geno Smith and Josh Johnson to produce highlight reel plays. It looked as though he had done enough to force his way on to the final 53-man roster, but it wasn’t to be. Eagan was a late addition to the Giants’ roster, but showed some talent as a slot receiver and return man.
If there is any silver lining to the Giants’ offensive predicament, it is that these young players will have the opportunity to show that they belong on the field in the NFL.
“Two young guys,” Sullivan said, “you’re talking about Travis and Ed Eagan. Both of them have had a lot of work throughout the early part of the year on the show team. So, they do a lot of running and a lot of the fundamentals of route running and catching the football and so forth, have been good. Now, they had a chance to get more involved in our offense. They’re out there, they’re getting plays and signals from Eli (Manning). So, excited for the opportunity both those young guys have. We’ll have them to rely upon, trust their training, trust their preparation and go out and have fun and enjoy that moment.”
Since 2014, Beckham has been the engine that has driven the Giants’ offense. His rare combination of savvy play and explosive athleticism let him rewrite record books and be a true game-changer for the Giants’ offense. Now the Giants have to figure out some way to move the ball and score points without him. Their best chance to do that might be rookie tight end Evan Engram.
The Giants’ first round pick has a number of qualities in common with the recovering superstar receiver, but being The Guy is still a lot to ask of any rookie. Unfortunately, Sullivan is in the position of having to ask him to be just that, and from multiple positions.
About Engram, Sullivan said, “Evan has done a lot of good things for us this year. He’s a hard worker. He’s very smart. We have to make sure we’re cognizant of the fact that while he is doing a lot of good things and he’s shown versatility both in terms of what he can do physically and what we put on him mentally, we don’t want to over-tax him. We don’t want to try to make things overly complicated in the sense that he’s not able to go out there and play fast. So, we just want to be able to put him in positions where, certainly, which we’ve seen already this year. He’s been in line. He’s been displaced. Want to continue to try and do that, but not at the risk of trying to overload him to where all the sudden he’s thinking so much that he’s not able to play fast.”
The Giants have more to worry about than their receiving options.
Even if they were completely healthy, they would still have to deal with Denver’s pass rush. The Giants primary concern coming in to the game has to be to find some way of slowing down Von Miller. Miller generally lines up on the right side of the offense (the defensive left), and will primarily be rushing against Bobby Hart.
“Well, Von Miller is a concern, regardless,” Sullivan said. “I mean, you take the greatest right tackle, left tackle, take every tackle that ever played in the National Football League – they’re going to struggle against Von Miller. That’s, in my opinion, the best pass rusher in the game. So, we have to do everything that we can to try to help. They move him around. He can also – you’ll see sometimes he’s on the other side. He also really does us a favor and he’ll go inside as well. So, we have our hands full and we’ll have a plan of ways that we can try to either a combination of sliding the protection or like a lot of teams will do this, it’s no secret, having a tight end or a back there to chip and to just try to do what we can to keep him off balance. But, it’s a huge challenge. No doubt about it.”