After two consecutive losses to Washington and Minnesota, I was done giving the Giants the benefit of the doubt, and Sunday night’s loss to the Packers only reinforced that. We’re about to be in Week 6. Football Outsiders has weened off of the preseason rankings in their analysis, and wisely embraced the reality of the 2016 season. Clinging on to preseason hopes and grudges can put you in a tough position, especially when you’re defending your opinion that the Panthers are going to be fine or how you think this Vikings model isn’t sustainable. This is kinda where I’m at with Big Blue. The smoldering coals of optimism haven’t been completely snuffed out, but the Giants are very much the 2-3 last place team their record indicates – and that’s a tough pill to swallow. They aren’t who I thought they were.
I didn’t assume that New York had a top-tiered team from the jump, but I figured there was room for growth, and with the variable of McAdoo taking over, there was no telling what the ceiling could be. I get caught up too often in this ceiling talk, and I know I’m not alone. I was so hyped about the potential of this receiving core and an offense predicated on Eli Manning making quick decisions and quick throws – ya know, the desirable parts of his game. I could see it all in my head: them marching down the field with short, efficient passes that nullified the holes up front. In fact, that’s still the standard I hold them to, but at this point, it’s becoming more of a fantasy I use to escape from what’s happening on the field. There have been two or three drives this season where the offense was clicking in a way that resonated with this idealistic vision of them, but the vast majority of the time Big Blue has had the ball, they’ve made me sad.
Eli Manning has strung together a nice little streak of poor quarterback play, and Odell Beckham – although less hot-headed this week – has still not produced at the level that is expected of him. But the blame for this loss can’t be put all on them. I’m looking at you, Ben McAdoo. For the third straight week, the coaching staff’s failure to adjust the offensive game plan has hung everyone else out to dry.
I understand bad blockers throw everything else off, but there are ways to scheme around weaknesses up front. A tight end could stay in to block, a running back could help Ereck Flowers or Bobby Hart with their rusher before flaring out into the flats, shorter quicker routes by the receivers, faster developing plays. I’m sure McAdoo knows all this, but judging by his offense, you’d think he doesn’t.
Eli missing throws makes matters worse, and even his biggest supporters like myself are slightly concerned. He hasn’t looked right in a while, and I’m not sure whether it’s due to reasons mental or physical. He’s looked rattled, happy-footed, and not the least bit comfortable. You can’t help but think about Eli’s football mortality right now, and the “what have you done for me lately?” question is getting harder and harder to answer. Despite all of this, I don’t Eli’s struggles are cause for panic. He’s been streaky throughout his career, and the bad stretches have been longer and more prevalent in recent years, but he’s generally the same beast. He’ll pull it around eventually – probably not enough to warrant his salary, but enough so that he’s not answering questions about job security quite yet.
If Eli was on his game, the trajectory of this season would likely be different than it is currently. Maybe the Giants would be 4-1, and The Odell Situation wouldn’t have been a thing. That’s unrealistic though, especially considering what we know about this offensive line and how Manning doesn’t do so well under pressure. This is all stuff that should be accounted for, right? Maybe it’s on McAdoo to put his players in a better position to succeed. I don’t think it’s the smart move to strip him of play calling duties, because offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan has prior experience, but it’s bad experience. Something needs to change though, and neither Eli Manning nor the guys in front of him are going to change into different players throughout the course of the season. The whole unit looks out of whack and it seems to me that trying to put out these individual fires isn’t where the team’s focus should be. They’re a little divided and conquered, and that rhythm that great offenses have when they’re humming along is so broken with this unit. You ever watch someone play Guitar Hero on too high of a difficulty, and the actual music takes a backseat to the screeches and the ear-piecing pings that ring out when you miss a note? That’s how this offense looks.
The defense wasn’t great on Sunday night either. There was little to find solace in for Giants fans, but Janoris Jenkins was a bright spot. Rodgers was off his game but on some throws, he was not, and Jenkins was often there in those moments. But for every Janoris Jenkins, there is a Trevin Wade, and for every Vernon or Pierre-Paul, there is a Casillas or a Hankins who is getting beat. Outside of a cheap shot on the game-clinching first down by Randall Cobb, I liked what I saw from Landon Collins and Anthony Adams – both of whom played every defensive snap and received high marks from Pro Football Focus. Taking into account the groin injuries to Eli Apple and Dominique Rodgers Cromartie, the secondary looked pretty good, and a few hiccups by Rodgers made them look even better.
My beef was with the defensive line and linebackers, who failed miserably to rush the passer while also being uncharacteristically bad against the run. A team that can stop the run but can’t stop the pass may be just as vulnerable as a team that can stop neither, but seeing the G-men go from the former to the latter sure isn’t encouraging. To bring it back around and wrap it up in the potentially delusional optimism I love so much, Spagnuolo’s squad has been matched up against some solid offenses recently, and while they’ve bent, they haven’t broken. This is still the side of the ball I’m more confident in, but as it is with the offense, even the parts that were thought to be strengths are showing flaws now.
These blemishes are so apparent because the team is losing, and putting the magnifying glass over problem areas doesn’t tell the whole story. The cracks that are appearing in the defense are partially due to their level of competition, but I think their problems are more symptomatic of a bad offense than they are a cause for concern in their own right. Oversimplification is my middle name but believe me, a nice consistent flow on offense would fix a lot of problems.
I think the first step to getting that groove back is game planning around the imperfections and establishing the same sense of togetherness that comes from training montages in sports movies. I don’t know if Eli and Odell need to run in slow motion on a beach together, or if McAdoo needs to give a rallying cry like Al Pacino did in Any Given Sunday, when he went full Pacino and delivered a helluva speech culminating in “either we heal, now, as a team, or we will die, as individuals. That’s football, guys, that’s how it is” (yes those commas are really necessary, that’s how he talks).
The way I see it, chemistry isn’t the root of the problem for New York. I’ve seen Eli to Cruz, Eli to Beckham, Eli to Tye, and now Eli and Shepard. They’re all buddies, they’ve played catch. The offensive line is ruining everything, and McAdoo is letting it. Maybe the potential addition of Stork and a reemergence for Beatty will fix things, but more likely than not, the team is going to have to work around it. I’ve seen no sign of that so far, and what worries me most is that this seems like an issue with strategy, which falls under the McAdoo umbrella, and that’s not where the pressure seems to be right now. The Beckham Situation and Eli’s woes are what take center stage, and the guy pulling the strings doesn’t seem to be getting his fair share of flak, which worries me. His rigid game plans need to bend to meet the talented players on his roster somewhere in the middle, unless the wheels are going to come off individually. First Eli gets hit, then Eli misses throws, then none of the receivers can establish a presence, then the defense is on the field too long, etc. All of these players will be criticized and put under a microscope.
Viewed as isolated incidents, you might come to the conclusion that the Giants may just have bad players, or players that are regressing at the same time. However, when you look at the team as a whole – especially the offense – you notice it’s not so much a lack of working parts that’s bringing the team down, it’s their inability to adjust their approach.
– Jim Bearor (@JimBearor)