Everyone expected the New York Giants to be an offensive juggernaut coming in to the 2016 season. After all, Eli Manning was going in to his third season in Ben McAdoo’s offense, as was Odell Beckham Jr. They were adding Sterling Shepard and getting Victor Cruz back. It was expected that the offensive line play would take a step forward with experience and continuity.
To pretty much everyone’s surprise, the offense has under-performed, doing just enough to win while the defense has largely carried the team.
With just six weeks of regular season football left, the Giants are running out of time to start playing complete games.
Offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan knows that as well as anybody.
“We still have yet to play that complete game or anything close to a complete game.” Sullivan said, when asked about the progress of the offense.
“Week nine was our first game of the year where we didn't have a turnover. It's hard to have the consistency to do the things you want to do on offense when we're turning the ball over, which we have, unfortunately, in those first eight, nine games of the year. It's also a matter of getting a consistency where we have the balance that we want, and we're able to go ahead and run the football, take some pressure off the line and then have passes occur on our terms, some of the play actions, which can do some more than explosive plays. As we go back and look at every game, it just seems there's always a play here, and play there, where we're not quite as sharp from the details that we need to have execution wise, whether it's run or pass. I think there's great potential. I think we're far from playing our best football yet and so hopefully, based upon the week that we had, we can put it all together and can get things going in the right direction on Sunday.”
What, then, is holding the offense back? How could they have better players and worse production?
“That's a great question.” Sullivan replied, when asked that very question.
“We've had opportunities throughout the season, whether it's been some of the turnovers that we've had, or early on we had some penalties that put us out of field position. Fortunately, the pass game the last few weeks, we've been able to be successful, to be able to get the ball in the end zone.”
He went on to add that there might not be any one reason for the Giants’ offensive struggles.
“It's hard to pinpoint one particular area as we've been able to get some more of the continuity, guys getting more comfortable with their roles and trying to find the matchups that we need. Obviously, we want to get the ball to our play-makers, but then, whenever we can get the run game going, that should certainly help. We've had a little more success the past couple of weeks,” Sullivan said. “It's really hard to put my finger on specifically one thing, other than just instances where we had a negative play or there's a turnover or just aren't quite on the same page. Hopefully, we can continue with some of the momentum we've had, particularly when we get down on that 30-yard line, 20-yard line, trying to get those touchdowns instead of field goals.”
One of the biggest questions fans have is why Odell Beckham simply isn’t getting the ball as much — or even as many looks -- as he did in his first two years. With players like Julio Jones and Antonio Brown dominating their teams’ targets, it’s easy for Giants fans to wonder why their superstar receiver doesn’t get the same treatment.
“When it comes to Odell, obviously we all know he is a dynamic play-maker.” Sullivan said, stating the obvious. “It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the more we give him the ball, the higher our chances are of winning. He is seventh in the NFL right now, I mean, he’s got 98 targets, so we're trying, and that's always a big part of our plan.”
Sullivan added, however, that Beckham’s impact goes beyond his own numbers.
“I think the thing that is important to realize when it comes to that is really two things; number one, based upon where he's aligned, in formation, often times that can create some other opportunities in terms of the run game; shifting the front, getting some things that have created some openings that have helped us the past two weeks. Secondly, opportunities for other guys. There is no more revealing clip or picture to have all of you guys take a look at, than the touchdown of Sterling Shepard. We put Odell in a specific spot and if you go back and look at that clip, the safety who was aligned to his side, it was a two-high configuration, his eyes are right on Odell. Had he not done that, then it's one-on-one and he's got a touchdown in the end zone, and we can all see him enjoy the celebration. But, because of his commitment to him and the corners commitment to him, that opens up the middle of the field and that created a touchdown for Sterling,” Sullivan said. “There are certain by-products, if you will, based upon his alignment. While he may be not getting the ball, it certainly creates those opportunities. We definitely would like to get the ball in his hands as much as possible and want to be good coaches and know that what makes us good coaches is getting the ball and what helps us win.”
As it turns out, the Giants had been counting on Beckham commanding the attention of defenses, and used that to create the opportunity for Shepard’s double move to get him wide open in the end zone.
“You never know, but we had a pretty good hunch. Our specific thought process that landed him right there on that play was; A) they singled up, he's matched up, he's got leverage, he's got a lot of room, we're going to throw him the touchdown pass or B) they commit those two guys that could then open up the middle of the field, and based upon some adjustment that Eli can make, which he did, give us a chance to go ahead and score the touchdown,” Sullivan said.
After almost three months of football, there is plenty of tape out there on all the offenses, and defenses are always trying to scheme new ways of beating those offenses. That’s something the Giants’ coaches are counting on.
“So to answer your question, it is something, especially once you get into week nine, 10, 11 you get a sense of how teams are going to play premier receivers. We look at Pittsburgh tape, you look at Atlanta tape, how are they playing the Julio Jones', the Antonio Brown's, the Dez Bryant’s, and see if it fits, if that have that in their arsenal,” Sullivan said. “We can try to project as best we can how they will play us because that's obviously how they're going want to try and take away Odell.”