One of the last images we have of the 2013 Giants is quarterback Eli Manning being assisted off of the field after an apparent ankle injury. That very image defined the 7-9 wreck that was the Giants season.
But even after missing the playoffs for the second consecutive year since winning Super Bowl XLVI, losing his top wide receiver in free agency, having ankle surgery forcing him to miss the team’s organized team activities and now having to learn a new offense, “Easy Eli” preps for Giants training camp with the same cool, calm demeanor he’s displayed throughout his career.
Eli’s numbers dropped for a second consecutive year (3,818 yds, 18 TD, 27 INT) as the Giants’ 7-9 season is highlighted by their 0-6 start where Manning threw 15 interceptions. The Giants were 19th in the league in passing yards per game (224.3) and 29th in rushing yards (83.3) which forced Eli into more passing situations than even he would’ve liked, something that is expected to change.
The Giants are going away from their traditional power running game that has defined them in the past and switching over to the west coast offense, something completely new for Eli, let alone the Giants.
For the first time in his career, Manning has spent the offseason learning a brand new offense alongside new Giants’ offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo.
The west coast offense (as made classic by the legendary 49ers head coach Bill Walsh) will allow Manning to make his primary and secondary reads much quicker, allowing for a quicker release on passing plays. It also adds elements of a power running game, which will allow the Giants offense to, essentially, dictate the opposing defense.
“It’s definitely different,” Manning said to Newsday. “It’s a different feel than we’ve had in a number of years. Learning a new offense, I might as well be a rookie. There are some concepts you know and there are things that I understand from being a football player and having experience. But there are still a lot of things that are different in this offense.”
While learning a new offense can be a challenge for any quarterback, let alone entire offense, the change comes at a perfect time for the Giants.
Last year, under Gilbride, the Giants tried to make one last heave at a Super Bowl with their remaining veterans from those championship teams. But now they are all gone and Eli is now the focal point of not just the Giants offense, but virtually the entire organization.
Remember this: as Manning goes, so do the Giants. He needs to prove that he nailed down the same west coast offense that took great NFL quarterbacks like Joe Montana, Steve Young and Brett Favre years to master. But as one of the brightest minds in the game, that shouldn’t be a tough task.
“There are some concepts you know and there are things that I understand from being a football player and having experience. But there are still a lot of things that are different in this offense.” -Eli Manning
When Manning reports to camp on Monday, the true test begins. What did he pick up from McAdoo throughout the past six months? How will the offense look in this new scheme?
“I feel good about where I’ve been and the direction we’re headed,” McAdoo told the New York Daily News after the end of mini-camp in June. “I think that football is a simple game. If you take care of the football, if you’re a fundamental team and you’re sound and you’re smart, then you have a chance to win on Sunday.
Winning on Sundays, Monday or even Thursdays, won’t just be enough. The Giants brought in McAdoo to guide this team back into the playoffs. Anything short of that will not do. Especially after the Giants spent $116 million this offseason to make another Super Bowl run.
Of that $116 million spent, $40 million was spent to bring in offensive players like wide receiver/kick returner Trinidon Holliday and to bring back receiver Mario Manningham and running backs Peyton Hillis and Rashad Jennings.
However, the Giants spending spree was really focused on the defense, with the Giants buying a brand new secondary as they signed defensive backs Walter Thurmond, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Quinton Demps and Zack Bowman to improve on a pass defense that allowed an average of 223.3 yards per game (10th in the NFL).
They also re-signed linebacker Jon Beason and signed linebacker Jameel McClain and defensive end Robert Ayers to improve on a rush defense that allowed an average of 108.9 yards per game (14th in the NFL).
The Giants open their preseason and their season under the spotlight when they host the Buffalo Bills in the Hall of Fame game on Aug. 3 and travel to Detroit for the Monday night opener on Sept. 8. The entire country will get a good look at the new-look Giants as three of the team’s first six games are on prime-time, two of which are divisional matchups on the road against Washington and Philadelphia.
Whether they can turn things around in 2014 will be the question for this team in 2014.
The Giants will have a tough task ahead to return to the playoffs, and McAdoo, Eli and the Giants rebuilt secondary will be held responsible for that job.
The future of the franchise rests on them; no pressure though.