EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. But if you’re an NFL team averaging 17.8 points per game and have just five touchdown passes in five games, something needs to change.
The New York Giants started tinkering with new looks and formations in Sunday night’s loss to the Green Bay Packers. Star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was in the backfield, in motion, in the slot, staggered throughout formations and even took an end around and was looking to pass. The Giants used more four-wide-receiver sets.
Coach Ben McAdoo and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan realized change was necessary as the Giants (2-3) lost their third straight game. More might be on the way when they host the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
The Giants want the ball in Beckham’s hands more often, and they’re looking to increase his personal effectiveness while boosting the efficiency of the entire offense. One way to make that happen could be to line him up in the slot. Beckham did it on 19 percent of the offensive snaps last year, when he caught 32 passes for 467 yards and two touchdowns.
Things have changed this year. With the presence of Sterling Shepard, Beckham’s been in the slot on 8 percent of the snaps this season. He’s caught one pass for 14 yards on those plays.
“There has been some movement, maybe not as much movement in terms of the number of times they'll go in the slot, per se. You can probably, I wouldn't be able to give you the exact numbers, but if you were to come up with a figure, more so last year than this year,” Sullivan said. “I do think we have, particularly the past few weeks, worked on some things to try get him not just as an outside receiver but even some of the 3-by-1s, having him be the 3 receiver. It is important for a couple of reasons, obviously as teams try and have a plan to take him away to try commit to two defenders or skew their underneath coverage to him. He's a great playmaker and we want to put the ball his hands, so we do have to move him around.
“We have been working on some of that. I don't want to give away too much of the game plan or anything, but obviously it's a good point and it's something that we need to be aware of. It really is predicated on trying to get him the football but also a reaction to how he's being covered.”
The Giants have talked a lot in recent weeks about teams using Cover 2 or other defenses with two-deep safeties to protect against the deep end of the field. For some reason, it has mysteriously thrown them out of sync.
Quarterback Eli Manning and Beckham are struggling with their efficiency. Only 55 percent of Manning’s passes to Beckham are being completed, down from 61 percent last year and 71 percent during Beckham’s rookie season in 2014.
Beckham doesn’t really care where he’s lined up, which is a good thing because rookie Shepard has played 86 of the snaps out of the slot this season.
“Wherever you’re told to go, you go over there. Execute whatever is called,” Beckham said.
Even though Victor Cruz has played most of his career out of the slot, the Giants have made a concerted effort to keep the rookie Shepard in that position. They believe it’s where he’s best suited. His short-area quickness made him an ideal fit.
“In small areas, I can work a little bit better using my quickness,” Shepard said. “Other than being outside, you have to open up and run – which I can do – but I’m more quick and fast.”
Cruz, 29, has also had to make a transition. He’s bounced to the outside, where he hasn’t always been able to get open with consistency. Cruz has made some plays – aside from Sunday in Green Bay when he was shut out – even in tight coverage.
Maybe Cruz and Beckham could also benefit from some more snaps in the slot? After all, it’s where Cruz made his name in the NFL. It’s a spot where Beckham did significant damage his first two professional seasons. He had 53 receptions, 779 yards and five touchdowns.
The Giants are looking for any way to jump-start their offense. Manning has thrown two touchdown passes in his past four games.
After moving receivers around more on Sunday in Green Bay, they think they’re close. Beckham, who scored his first touchdown of the season in the fourth quarter last Sunday, had eight snaps out of the slot against the Packers.
“It’s coming at some point,” Beckham said. “We just have to keep pushing. Keep chipping away, keep chipping away. The tree will fall down at some point.”