After a 19-3 drubbing by the Cowboys in Week 1 and a pitiful 24-10 showing on Monday Night Football in Week 2, the Giants are 0-2. And the coaching staff, the players, and the New York Giants fans all over the world are no longer worried about the Super Bowl. They’re worried about survival. If this season is going to turn around, it has to start this weekend against the Philadelphia Eagles. And an awful lot needs to change for that to happen.
Right or wrong, the blame always falls on the shoulders of the quarterback when a team loses. And Eli Manning certainly deserves a fair share of that blame. He’s always driven Giant fans crazy, leading the team to remarkable victories one week and the next week bearing a closer resemblance to a first-year starter rather than a two-time Super Bowl MVP. This year, he’s looked more like an XFL reject than a Super Bowl hero.
The Giants’ short passing attack has, as it has the last three seasons, seen Eli throwing to a solid 72% completion percentage. But that’s come with only 1 TD pass. And the team’s lack of a deep passing has allowed their opponents to cheat up and cut off a lot of the crossing routes and slant routes in which Sterling Shepard and Odell Beckham Jr. have been so successful. Without space to operate, there has been little chance to use their speed and very few yards after the catch.
The lack of a dynamic passing attack cannot be solely blamed on Eli, however. For reasons not known to any reasonable person, the Giants answered their struggling running game and pass protection from a year ago by bringing back the same five starting offensive linemen from last season. The same group that finished 27th in the NFL in rushing yards in 2016. The same group that often had the less than nimble Eli running for his life all season long one year ago.
The only man in the group who seems to stand out is Ereck Flowers, and he stands out for all the wrong reasons. The starting left tackle seems to only be able to protect the franchise quarterback when he’s committing a holding penalty. Otherwise, he’s been a welcome sight to opposing defensive lineman for his entire three-year career.
Any turnaround of this season has to begin up front. The team has amassed only 97 rushing yards in two games, averaging a putrid 3.2 yards per carry. But they do not only have to run the ball better, they have to try to run period. Coach Ben McAdoo has seen fit to run only 30 times in two games, with two of those carries being reverses to Shepard (sadly, among the most successful moments for the team on the ground so far). If they are going to take some of the pressure off of Manning, they have got to commit to the run and try to win the battle up front.
The Giants must also win up front on the other side of the ball. The vaunted defensive front of Big Blue was completely manhandled by the Lions a week ago, allowing a staggering 163 yards on the ground.
They could not get Detroit off the field on third down, and Matthew Stafford seemingly had no trouble evading their pressure and taking off for first down runs. As it was in 2007, 2011, and any other year this team has been successful, the key is to stop the run and to put the opposing quarterback down. So far, the defense has been a lot more bark than actual bite.
The time for the Giants is now. This weekend’s road game in Philadelphia is the line in the sand. Since 1970, NFL teams have a nearly 90% probability of missing the playoffs if they start 0-3. The team’s recent struggles against their old rival mean this team is not only up against the present Eagles but must shake the ghosts of the recent past.
They must run the ball. They must stop the run. And they must give Eli a chance to get the ball into his dynamic receiver’s hands in space so that they can create havoc. If they can’t, then this could turn into a hell of a long year.