The New York Giants’ week five loss to the San Diego Chargers was the nightmare scenario. Not only is their season effectively over — barring a miraculously unprecedented run over the final twelve weeks — but they lost the philosophic foundation for their offense.
This isn’t just losing Odell Beckham Jr. for the remainder of the season — though that is a massive blow in and of itself — the Giants are also bracing to be without Sterling Shepard and Brandon Marshall.
Shepard is considered “week to week” with a sprained ankle that is being described as similar to the injury he suffered in preseason. The Giants are also expecting to be without Brandon Marshall, who had become their possession receiver, for “multiple games”.
#NYG bracing for Brandon Marshall to miss multiple games with ankle injury. Yesterday was a day that defies explanation.— Kimberly Jones (@KimJonesSports) October 9, 2017
They are ALSO going to be without Dwayne Harris for the remainder of the season, which is a blow to not only the offense (where he is able to fill in well enough at slot receiver) but the special teams as well.
One horrible day has obliterated an entire position group and largely ripped the offense apart. But the season rolls on, and they have a game to play Sunday night, and they need to figure out something, anything, to do for the wide receiver position.
To help fill out the depth chart, the Giants have re-signed Tavarres King and promoted undrafted rookie Travis Rudolph from the practice squad. Those moves give them a grand total of three healthy wide receivers on the 53-man roster. That is literally the bare minimum in a league where the base offensive formation uses three receivers.
What are the Giants’ options with a devastated wide receiver position?
The first option should be to run the ball. Once the Giants put D.J. Fluker in the game against San Diego, they suddenly rediscovered a long-dormant running game and rushed to the tune of 154 yards. They very well could have had half-again that total (if not more) had they not forgotten after the first quarter that they both had the lead and running the ball was working.
The Giants face a brutal schedule replete with elite pass rushers. They need to figure out some way to both keep Eli Manning upright and open up something in the passing game. That something should be to keep Fluker in the starting line-up and run the ball on the majority of offensive snaps. Over the last two weeks the Giants have had some of their best runs of the last two years behind Fluker. It’s time to let the big man do what he was born to do and follow Fluker.
Use The Tight Ends
The biggest criticism of Evan Engram is that he is a “wide receiver playing tight end.” Well, now it’s time to use that to the team’s advantage. With Beckham and Shepard out, Engram is unequivocably the Giants’ best offensive weapon. He is too big for most defensive backs to deal with, and too athletic for most linebackers. Engram was drafted to be a versatile mismatch in the passing game, and that is how they need to use him.
With only three healthy receivers, the Giants will likely need to switch to a “12” personnel base offense, using Rhett Ellison as the tight end and move Engram throughout the formation. He has played in both the slot and split out wide before, so he can fill multiple vacancies in the receiving game. They could also use more “13,” or three tight end sets, using Ellison and Jerell Adams to beef up the offensive front (which dovetails nicely with #FollowFluker), and use Engram and Adams’ athleticism to augment the depleted passing game.
It’s worth noting that Adams’ athletic profile compares favorably with that of Kelvin Benjamin.
The Giants will also likely have to activate fourth tight end Matt LaCosse.
It was something of a surprise when the Giants released wide receiver Darius Powe with an injury settlement in training camp. He was one of the stars of their spring and summer programs, and seemed to have made the leap to translating his intriguing athletic ability to the football field. At 6’4,” 220 pounds, running a 4.4 second 40-yard dash, he has the prototypical physical tools for an NFL wide receiver. He went undrafted, and spent 2016 on the Giants’ practice squad, because his college offense lacked anything close to the sophistication of an NFL offense. In short, he needed to learn how to play the NFL game. But, the Giants were (reportedly) very high on him, leaving him be on the practice squad as he worked and learned.
The work seemed to pay off. Powe was one of the Giants’ best receivers through the first preseason game and appeared to be almost a lock for the final roster. That, of course, was before a hamstring injury prior to their second preseason game.
If Brandon Marshall is to be out for an extended period (beyond the Giants’ week 8 bye), they might be forced to place him on the injured reserve and the recently re-signed Powe to their active roster. The move is by no means a panacea, but he would fill the “big receiver” role left empty by Marshall’s injury, fill out a paper-thin depth chart, and give the Giants an opportunity to finally see what they have in him on an NFL field.
What can the Giants do about their destroyed receiver depth chart? Realistically, patch it up and carry on as best they can. There is no replacement for Odell Beckham Jr., and without him, their “Pick Your Poison” offensive concept ceases to exist, even in theory.
However, their nightmarish Sunday could at least give young players like Rudolph, who was exciting in preseason and an incredibly easy young man to root for, and Powe a chance to show that they belong. The Giants find themselves in a terrible situation, but it might also present them with opportunities, if not wins.