The New York Giants are still waiting to see the results from their massive offseason offensive makeover.
Granted, in Week 1 the Giants were going against one of the the best defenses the NFL has to offer in the Jacksonville Jaguars, but their performance was still deflating.
This week the stakes are even higher against the division rival Dallas Cowboys. Do the Giants have what it takes to win an important game on the road which could have profound implications for their playoff aspirations?
Stats at a glance
Rushing yards - 114.0 yards
Passing yards - 210.0 yards
Total yards - 324.0 yards
Points - 15 points
Rushing yards - 147.0 yards
Passing yards - 146.0 yards
Total yards - 293.0 yards
Points - 16 points
*These are only the results from Week 1, and should be taken with a grain of salt.
It’s all on the line
The Giants completely rebuilt their offensive line in the 2018 offseason, with coach Pat Shurmur likening their flurry of moves to changing a transmission as opposed to simply changing the offense’s oil.
Granted we have a sample size of one game, against one of the fastest defensive fronts in the NFL, but the changes on the line look like differences without a distinction. Far too often against Jacksonville the line was leaking pressure into Eli Manning’s face, letting him get hit, forcing him to hurry, effecting his passes, and in once case, causing a tipped pass that to a game-changing defensive touchdown for the Jaguars.
The Cowboys’ defensive front is not the Jaguars’. However, Dallas features some dangerous pass rushers. Defensive ends Demarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford are disruptive and must be accounted for on every play. Even against a Carolina Panthers’ offense which used the read-option to slow the pass rush, the Cowboys still managed to get three sacks.
And if the Giants want any semblance of a running game against the Cowboys, they will need the offensive line to lead the way. Saquon Barkley saw 8 (or more) defenders in the tackle box on roughly 28 percent of his runs against Jacksonville, averaging 2.2 yards per carry on those attepts. Even worse, in the first half he averaged first contact half a yard behind the line of scrimmage.
That is simply not sustainable for an offense which wants the running game to take (at least some of) the load off of its aging quarterback’s right arm. Perhaps the most important aspect of the Giants’ offense to watch against Dallas will be their offensive line.
Playmakers making plays
Until the Giants’ offensive line can consistently allow them to play a more methodical brand of offense, this offense will be defined by big plays. That isn’t a terrible thing when an offense boasts athletic talents like Odell Beckham Jr., Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram, and Sterling Shepard. In fact, for a team that boasts talent like that to not be known for big plays would be more worrisome.
Even when not helped by scheme, players with the athletic profiles of the Giants' skill position players will eventually beat defenders and make plays. We saw it again and again from Beckham under Ben McAdoo and last week from Saquon Barkley.
Against the Cowboys, the Carolina Panthers were able to eke out a win by being careful with the football, spreading the ball around (never letting the defense key on one player), and judiciously using Cam Newton's athleticism.
The Giants' scheme is designed to spread the ball around carefully. But Eli Manning simply cannot do what Newton can athletically. To compensate, Shurmur and Shula will need to scheme ways to get the Giants playmakers the ball in space, and set them up to make plays.
The team used a variety motions, including sweeps from Odell Beckham, to give the Jaguars more to watch and a threat for which they must account. Using those tactics, as well as using alignment to give receivers free releases off the line of scrimmage, and putting playmakers in position will be key in this game.
And every game for the foreseeable future.
Red zone offense
The Giants had one of the best red zone offenses in the NFL in 2017. They didn't get there often, but when they did, Engram proved to be a force.
So far in 2018 the red zone offense has yet show up. The team struggled in the red zone in the preseason, and had to settle for field goals against the Jaguars. And while the Giants might need to to be a "big play" offense, they need to finish their drives.
The Cowboys want to run a ball-control offense, and if the defense can't consistently get them off the field, it will severely limit how many offensive possessions the Giants will have -- making them that much more valuable. Likewise, the offense will need to score points to help out the defense. Landon Collins mentioned during the week that the defense felt it had the best chance to win if Dak Prescott was throwing the ball, rather than Ezekiel Elliott running it. Finishing drives with touchdowns puts pressure on the Cowboys offense to score, taking them out of their game plan.
The Giants can't allow the game to devolve into the kind of slog which the first game became.