Most teams sit their starters in the final exhibition game, so when Giants head coach Tom Coughlin noted his starters will play "15 to 18" plays against the Patriots Thursday night in Big Blue's fifth game, alarms should be sounding.
Quarterback Eli Manning has struggled mightily this preseason in new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's version of the West Coast offense. And while Manning looked decent in Friday's win over the Jets, his troubles — and the offense as a whole — have been well-documented.
"[The starters] will play, [but] the only thing that matters is what you do in the regular season," said Coughlin. "What is important about the preseason is improvement, production and feeling like people are in the right spots. That is the only thing that I can attest to."
Coughlin also added that while the Giants were one of only two teams to play five preseason games — along with the Bills — it was worth it.
"Coming in I thought maybe the extra game would make [the summer] seem too long," said Coughlin. "But when you look at the number of practices, I don't think it was too long. We needed the work, obviously, and we needed to be out here together."
Manning has definitely needed the extra work and reps. The two-time Super Bowl-winning signal caller even admitted as much when he noted McAdoo's offense is not "something you can master in just four weeks" so he won't complain about doing the rare act of trotting on the field for the final preseason game.
"That sounds about right," Manning said about Coughlin's game plan. "I haven't heard about a number [of plays], but we'll just prepare for however much he wants to keep us in. I expect for us to go out there and try to move the ball and see if we can do something. ... Hopefully 15 to 18 plays means two [long] drives. But however long, we just want to get into a good rhythm now instead of having to wait until then [opening night]."
Coughlin is all for some kind of rhythm from an offense that has been downright offensive so far. While he acknowledged the struggles are real, he didn't sound too sympathetic and stated he's implored his offensive unit behind closed doors to essentially figure out their troubles because the games that matter are right around the corner.
"When all is said and done, it's still just football. Whatever you call it, whether it's a three-step drop offense, West Coast, or whatever, you still have to execute," said Coughlin. "There's a lot of details involved, and a lot of adjustments to be recognized, so [struggles] is what can be expected."
Outsiders may not fully understand the ins-and-outs of a pro offense, but one thing they may be familiar with is how well Manning looks whenever he reverts back to the two-minute drill. Manning whipped up a scoring drive against the Jets mainly in hurry-up mode and he's been known to excel in that chaotic state — as 30 game-winning drives, including two in the Super Bowl, can attest.
So, it only seems natural to ask why McAdoo doesn't unleash Manning in a no-huddle attack, full-time.
"We've been doing some of that in practice, some no-huddle. But still, the two-minute drill is a little different than the no-huddle. I think we maybe had one run in the two-minute drill [against the Jets], so we'd need to run the ball more if we did a no-huddle in a normal circumstance," said Manning. "Hopefully we can be more fast-paced and find ways to get completions and move the ball through the air, but be able to run the ball and keep defenses off balance so they're not always knowing what we're going to do."
Manning added that more than anything else, the cohesion between he and the receivers will be the biggest factor towards success, as he has faith in the offensive line jelling by the time the opener arrives.
"Some of the routes are different depths than what we've been used to around here, so it's good in a way to have had that extra [preseason] game and longer camp," said Manning. "Some of the footwork is a little bit different and even the drop out of the [shot]gun is a little bit different. The whole route is pretty much predicated off my drops, where my feet are and what my progression is."
Whatever offense the Giants run and regardless of the early struggles, tight end Larry Donnell said his quarterback should be given some slack.
"We all need those extra reps, extra game, sure," said Donnell, who is currently atop the position depth chart. "But with Eli, he's a Super Bowl champ, so there's nothing he can't do. He has two Super Bowl rings and the guy is a Pro Bowler. He's a great player, a great athlete and he will get the job done, so that's not even a problem. ... It's all a work in progress, so like I said, we will come into it. He's getting better and more comfortable and we're all getting better. And soon we'll all be where we need to be."
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.