The Giants are 0-2 and not for the reasons many would’ve thought heading into the season.
Gone are defensive veteran stalwarts and in their place are younger, less experienced players. But the defensive replacements aren’t the reason why Big Blue is currently languishing in last place of the NFC East. Instead, it’s an offense that’s been shockingly inept in key moments and sloppy for most of the eight quarters they’ve played.
Sunday’s 41-23 thumping at the hands of the Broncos had more to do with the offense’s shortcomings than the defense’s, as it was Eli Manning who threw four interceptions, including two in the end zone and another off a fluky carom that nestled into the hands of a Broncos defender. The younger Manning currently leads the NFL in interceptions (seven), while older brother Peyton leads the NFL in touchdowns (nine), which ties a league record for most scoring strikes in the first two games of a season.
Eli Manning acknowledged that the offense needs to pick up the pace, but failed to point fingers, as he took the blame when asked about his fourth interception— even though second-year wideout Rueben Randle cut his route short.
“We‘re not as sharp as we need to be and just need to collectively play better than we are right now,” said Manning. “We had some opportunities to make it closer and make it better, but we didn’t catch many breaks. We need to mentally get back on track.”
As much as he’s accustomed to taking the lion’s share of blame, Manning isn’t the only culprit for a Giants offense that is downright offensive. If it’s not running back David Wilson fumbling the ball, as he did twice in the opening-game loss to the Cowboys, it’s a lack of running lanes being formed by an offensive line that has been banged up and inconsistent since the start of training camp.
“We have to run the ball better,” Manning said. “We were either not getting much yardage or were losing yards, and that forced us to go more three-wide [receivers]. We hoped it’d open the running game, give us better down and distance and better chances to open some running lanes.”
The down and distance was a problem all game for Big Blue, as the third-down conversion rate was putrid. The Giants converted only three first downs in 12 attempts. That won’t cut it against the dregs of the NFL, let alone a powerhouse like the Broncos that has the offensive capabilities to make teams pay for coming up short.
Giants head coach Tom Coughlin lamented the ineffectiveness of his offense in key moments, but also reasoned that the Broncos’ defense is better than the average unit— even if they were without future Hall of Fame cornerback champ Bailey (foot) and All-Pro linebacker Von Miller, who is in the midst of serving a six-game suspension.
“Any time you don’t have any statistics to show for it, we’re certainly not knocking them back off the ball. Give credit where credit is due, they have a very good defensive team,” Coughlin said. “If you ask about third down, they were what, third in the league in third-down defense last year? Their front is big and strong and powerful. They’re a good defensive team. You’ve got to have a better run result than we’re having.”
The Giants offensive line has not been able to move the chains consistently in either of the two losses. It’s been a recurring theme for Big Blue the past couple of years, as they’ve failed to get the tough yards.
Coughlin admitted after the game that the Giants’ inability to gain significant yards on the ground— and the fact they didn’t call a large amount of rushing plays— hamstrung the entire offense.
“There’s a little bit of a hole in my stomach,” said Coughlin, describing the angst the offense is causing him. “Having so few rushing attempts is certainly not our style ... but we’re also not running through a lot of arms [tackles] out there and there aren’t many clear paths. The performance level has to come up.”
No matter how prolific the passing offense has been under Manning over the years, the Giants certainly need more run-pass balance. Wilson can’t get only seven carries and 17 yards and Brandon Jacobs can’t keep getting stuffed on short-yardage plays. If the Giants are to break out of their offensive rut and finally get into the win column, starting next week in Carolina, they’ll need more from the supporting cast because their franchise quarterback is pressing too much as he tries to solely shoulder the load.
Offensive lineman Kevin Boothe summed up the offense’s woes best, as he looked ahead to next week’s tilt against the Panthers.
“Truth is, teams are too good defensively for us to be so one-dimensional,” Boothe said.
Big Blue notes ...
The Giants gained 10 yards on their first two carries, but could only muster 13 yards on 17 carries after that.
Eli is now winless (0-3) in the “Manning Bowl” matchups. And since the two teams only play every four years, that might’ve been little brother’s final chance at besting his elder— unless the two teams meet again in February for the Super Bowl.
» With the slow start this season, the Giants are certainly hoping that history repeats itself.
“We’ve been 0-2 before [and] we've been able to dig out of it,” said Coughlin, citing the 2007 Super Bowl season as proof.
» Broncos wideout Trindon Holliday’s 81-yard punt return was the first touchdown allowed by the Giants’ special teams since the Eagles’ DeSean Jackson did it in a walk-off win in 2010.
» Wideout Hakeem Nicks suffered a dislocated finger in the first half, but Coughlin said he thinks the receiver will be “fine.”
» Jacobs’s return paid quick dividends when he plunged one yard for the touchdown to cut the Broncos’ lead to 17-16. This is the second stint for the hulking running back after a one-year hiatus in San Francisco.
» Peyton Manning reached the 60,000-yard passing plateau on the Broncos’ opening drive. He’s the fastest to do so, as Brett Favre and Dan Marino are the other two.
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.