With the addition of new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, a brand-new offensive scheme and a revamped offensive line, the expectations for the New York Giants offense have been high. McAdoo brings a quick-hitting, fast-paced offensive style to a team which ran the clock down far too often last season and was in need of some juice.
So two games in, where is the juice?
Saturday night saw quarterback Eli Manning throw two passes, completing none. That’s right, two passes—one of which was a clear miscommunication with receiver Jerrel Jernigan that was far too reminiscent of 2013 for anyone’s comfort level.
Meanwhile the saving grace for the night was a 73-yard touchdown run by Rashad Jennings.
The Giants offense, an allegedly a quick-hitting Packers style affair, is relying on the ground attack to win. It’s no wonder that sports radio in the New York area is in a bit of a tizzy.
Having watched the Giants when I was credentialed at training camp for two weeks, I’m just as surprised as you are.
What’s going on? Well, it’s a few things.
Under Construction: Offensive Line
That new revamped offensive line? It’s still not quite ready for prime time yet.
Jordan Raanan of NJ.com broke down Saturday night’s difficulties, and pointed out that even after Manning was done (four series in), his line remained out there. As Raanan writes, with the line still getting its act together, the team is opting to avoid putting Manning in position to get his head knocked in like he did in 2013.
Pro Football Focus graded the offensive line performance of the starters against the Pittsburgh Steelers and it wasn’t pretty. Left tackle Charles Brown was given a -2.3 in pass blocking, while the rest of the line barely graded positive. Center J.D. Walton was a mess blocking for the run and barely adequate on pass plays.
Walton might still be knocking the rust off after missing most of 2012 and all of 2013 due to an ankle injury, but Brown doesn’t have that excuse. He is, however, mostly just a stand-in for Will Beatty, who isn’t quite 100%.
Maybe rookie Weston Richburg gets a look at center or Beatty comes back soon, but for now we’ve got the center and left tackle—two of the most critical pieces on an offensive line—playing poorly for two straight games.
It’s no wonder the team isn’t exposing Manning behind it for many pass plays, instead leaning on the run more heavily than we expected.
This is a line which always seemed built to run block to begin with, and that at least seems to be working out. Since it’s only August and Rashad Jennings is looking excellent in the backfield, why risk Manning’s health?
Of course, at some point you have to, even though the Giants have an extra preseason game since they played a week before everyone but the Buffalo Bills. Because the bulk of the wide receivers clearly need practice while under fire.
Timing is Everything
In this offense, it’s all about getting the ball out not just quickly, but on time.
From the first day of practice, you could see Manning and Victor Cruz were on the same page. That was as expected. What we didn’t see—and reports continue to say isn’t there—is the timing with almost anyone else.
We talked briefly about Jernigan’s gaffe earlier, but it isn’t just Jernigan and it wasn’t just Saturday night. Rueben Randle has struggled, rookie Odell Beckham Jr. continues to be out with a hamstring pull (since OTAs) and many of the rest of the receivers are better special teams players than receivers.
What I saw a few weeks ago—Manning/Cruz hooking up but Manning/Everyone Else misfiring—doesn’t seem to have improved from what the beat writers say.
That in and of itself is a worry, but it does explain why we’re seeing less passes than we expected. If it’s not working, and you don’t want to be answering questions about turnovers post-game, don’t put your players in a position to turn the ball over.
The one other concern here is why Cruz hasn’t seen any targets. It could be that head coach Tom Coughlin is keeping things vanilla in the preseason or it could be that for some reason Manning isn’t looking for or seeing Cruz.
When the one guy who looked good from jump doesn’t get the ball at all it strikes one as a bit odd, that’s for sure.
The extra game and early start might also be factoring into the situation.
The Giants could be approaching it almost as if they don’t have that extra week—in other words, they treated this week as if it was the first game rather than pressure the offense to be ahead of schedule. We may not see the offense look like what we expected until we hit the “official” third week of preseason.
The fact is that because the Giants have already played two preseason games, our expectations might be a bit higher. We expect them to have shown us more because they’ve played more.
The Giants may be thinking much differently.
And even when we reach the third (for the Giants, fourth) preseason game against the New York Jets, how much of the real offense will we really see? As we wrote above, Coughlin—like most NFL coaches—likes to keep things plain and vanilla in the preseason so as not to tip off too much of what is coming in the regular season.
We may see heavy runs even against a Jets defense which doesn’t lend itself to success on the ground, and despite the fact that their secondary is a mess.
The state of the Jets’ secondary might not even factor into Coughlin or McAdoo’s thinking in the preseason, when games mean nothing. They may be more interested in keeping their Week 1 opponents, the Detroit Lions, guessing at what the offense will look like.
Now, maybe this is taking it a bit far given how critical it is for this offense to get live-game experience but you might not see a lot of the actual look of this offense at all in preseason.
Ultimately, it’s a bit too early for Giants fans to freak out about the lack of success in the passing game in the preseason. Sure, the absence of it from the first team is a bit befuddling, but there are multiple reasons for it that should keep you from panicking.
At least, not yet.