Facing a team giving up a league-worst 34.3 points per game and with a secondary giving up 336.7 yards per game (30th in the NFL) and playing without injured cornerback Patrick Robinson the Giants offense couldn’t — or really wouldn’t — push the ball down the field and try to take advantage.
The numbers for quarterback Eli Manning (31-of-41, 255 yards, a touchdown, no interceptions, a 99.1 passer rating) look fine.
The reality, though, is far different.
Manning went 6-of-7 for 41 yards on the Giants’ opening 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. After the Saints took a 26-10 lead with 6:47 to play Manning went 8-of-12 for 108 yards.
On the Giants’ other seven possessions? Nothing. Well, 17 completions in 22 attempts. For a measly 106 yards. The Giants got one 33-yard Aldrick Rosas field goal out of all of that.
There is some frustration seeping in
Just listen to Odell Beckham Jr., who was really a non-factor in the game. Beckham had 7 catches in 11 targets for 60 yards, but two of those catches and 40 of those yards came in the final six minutes with the game basically out of reach. At halftime, Beckham had 2 receptions for -4 yards.
Pat Shurmur was testier with reporters during his post-game press conference than I can recall him being since he became Giants’ head coach.
Asked about an offense that has reached the 20-point mark only once in four games — and still hasn’t hit 30 since Tom Coughlin was coach 38 games ago, Shurmur was short:
“We need to score more points.”
Does he need to make “massive changes?”
“No. We need to get better. What does that mean, massive changes? We need to get better.”
Why did the Giants, facing a defense that had struggled mightily in pass coverage during its first three games, run an offense that featured short throw after short throw, rarely challenging New Orleans with passes that had any depth to them all?
“They played a lot of soft zone. A lot of soft zone,” Shurmur said. “We just had to pick away at ‘em a little bit.”
Manning was part of the problem
Was this a “Check down Eli” game, or was the play-calling designed, as Shurmur said, to “pick away” and look for yardage after the catch?
“I thought he did a lot of good things. He’ll come up here and tell you he missed some things,” Shurmur said.
“We actually called a lot of play actions to get the ball down field and those became check downs because of that soft zone.”
Whether Manning was right to consistently check the ball down or missed opportunities to try for deeper shots is difficult to say. While completing 12-of-16 in the first half, Manning missed a pair of throws to an open Beckham, including a cross field sideline route where Beckham could have had a nice gain had the ball not sailed over his head. There was also a third-quarter throw to Rhett Ellison from the New Orleans 14-yard line that could have been a touchdown but Manning’s throw, while catchable, was high enough that a Saints defensive back was able to get a hand on it and prevent a catch. The Giants settled for a field goal that made the score 19-10.
“Tonight was a frustrating one. We got off to a good start and had a good drive. We were moving the ball and making plays on this team but we just weren’t able to do it. We got into some third and longs that we didn’t convert on,” Manning said. “They had some good calls and some good plays. They weren’t going to give us anything deep. They took away all the deep stuff and made us go underneath. That was fine. We were going to just have to have some long drives and continue to play that way. There was a few times where they knocked us out of some good down and distance and we weren’t able to sustain some drives.”
The defense wasn’t part of the problem
Four times in the first half New Orleans threatened and the Giants forced the Saints to settle for field goals. While the offense was picking away and, truthfully, getting nothing done after that opening drive the defense was keeping the Giants in the game.
Entering the season, most analysts thought the opposite would be the case. With the play-makers the Giants had at their disposal, Beckham, Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram (out with an MCL sprain) and a veteran quarterback like Manning at the controls the thought was that the Giants would score enough points. The question was whether or not the defense could get enough stops.
Through four games, for the most part things haven’t turned out that way. The defense is giving the Giants a chance. The offense, for the most part, hasn’t held up its end of the bargain.
The Giants fooled us
Or, at least, fooled me. I picked the Giants to win on Sunday. And yes, I’m 0-4 and really, really bad at picking games. I have, however, always admitted as much. That’s irrelevant.
Thing is, the Giants did enough good things against the Houston Texans to make me believe they were pointed in the right direction. That, facing a porous defense like the one the Saints had been through their first three games, the 30-point streak — now in its third season — was sure to fall.
This, however, is still a team that can’t play consistently good offense. Is it the blocking? The play-calling? The quarterback play? Penalties at bad times? Is Beckham maybe, just maybe, not quite what he used to be before he busted his ankle?
I’m not sure. Maybe it’s all of the above.
“We’re 1-3 and that’s not where we want to be right now. We were in some games that were close enough to make more plays we might have and an opportunity to win,” Shurmur said. “You just keep working. You just keep working and you play your way out of it and you coach your way out of it. Period. That’s what you do, and that’s the reality of it, and that’s what I trust our guys and our coaches will do.”
Sadly, that sounds an awful lot like what we’ve heard for the majority of the past seven seasons. What we have been seeing on the field is also all too reminiscent of those losing seasons that have become all too commonplace for the Giants. Unless something changes dramatically — and soon — with this offense, the Giants appear headed for another one.