The question would have seemed fair by the second half of Sunday night’s debacle in Dallas, with New York Giants wide receiver Brandon Marshall still without a catch and just one late-first-half target.
Is Marshall just cooked?
After all, he is 33 years old and coming off a down season with the New York Jets. There were excuses in 2016 (most of which seem reasonable), such as he was banged up and playing without a capable quarterback for a team that went in the tank.
Marshall signed with the Giants this offseason, and was supposed to be their No. 1 receiver on Sunday night with Odell Beckham Jr. sidelined by an ankle injury. It’s a role he’s handled, with considerable success, for most of his career. It just didn’t look that way against the Cowboys, working in a new offense and with a new team.
Judging by the television broadcast, the veteran receiver looked ineffective and somewhat disinterested, with one target in the first half and what seemed like a subpar effort on an off-target throw in the flat early in the fourth quarter. It took 58 minutes, 40 seconds for Marshall to catch his only pass of the game. He finished with one catch for 10 yards.
So again, is Marshall just cooked? I went to the all-22 tape for some answers.
It’s not as if Marshall was unable to get any separation. Of the 11 routes he ran in the first half, there were six where he was either open or feasibly in position to receive a pass from quarterback Eli Manning. There were four where he was double-covered and one where the ball was out of Manning’s hand into the flat before Marshall even got out of his break.
This was the Giants’ second pass play and first third-down play of the game. Third-and-4 at the 12-yard line (first quarter):
Marshall lines up out wide left and ran a shallow cross. He gets open -- albeit 1 yard short of the first-down marker -- but Manning isn't looking in his direction and doesn’t have time on the play. Manning is sacked before turning his attention to Marshall.
Had Manning had time or looked immediately in Marshall’s direction, it probably would’ve resulted in a first down. With Marshall’s size (6-foot-5, 232 pounds) and speed, it would’ve been on him to get the Giants a new set of downs.
That is why they signed him this offseason. His size was believed to be what the offense was missing.
This is the very next pass play, on the ensuing possession. Second-and-5 at the 30-yard line (first quarter):
After the Giants run for 5 yards on first down, Manning uses a play-action pass to hold Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith for a split second. He’s looking at Marshall in the middle of the field but decides not to pull the trigger as his receiver sits down around the 45-yard line.
This play appears to be one where Manning could’ve tried to get the ball to his new receiver. He didn’t. The first pass thrown in Marshall’s direction came more than a quarter later.
“[The lack of targets] was a product of a lot of things,” coach Ben McAdoo said. “There may have been times where you’re trying to get him the ball but couldn’t get it to him for one reason or another. It could’ve been where he was lined up in the progression, based on the coverage we were seeing. It’s not just one factor, you can’t just point to one thing. It was a variety of things. We certainly want Brandon to get a touch earlier than he got a touch.”
There were times it was difficult to get Marshall the ball. With Beckham not in the lineup, the Cowboys often had two defenders (often a linebacker and cornerback) in Marshall’s vicinity. Dallas played a lot of zone coverage, often with two safeties deep.
Next, third-and-4 at the 32-yard line (second quarter):
There is no chance for Marshall on this play, which ends with an off-target pass caught by Sterling Shepard short of the first down over the middle. The Giants are forced to punt.
They did have an opportunity to use Marshall’s size in their one opportunity in the red zone. Manning didn’t pull the trigger, this time with Giants trailing 13-0.
Second-and-4 at the 4-yard line (third quarter):
Marshall is lined up wide right against cornerback Nolan Carroll. He has one-on-one coverage, and Manning looks briefly in his direction, but he elects not to throw the jump ball.
Manning is sacked on the play. It ruins an otherwise successful drive to start the second half.
“We kind of had a double, so I was kind of looking that way [to Marshall] to get some safeties to come back, and I had a chance to find [tight end] Evan [Engram] in the end zone,” Manning said after the game. “That’s when we got pressured and there wasn’t much to do right there. I had to take a sack, so it was an unfortunate situation.”
After a preseason in which they were on the field together for a small number of snaps and didn’t have a completion, Marshall and Manning didn’t seem to have much chemistry in the opener. The quarterback attributed it to a lack of plays in the first half (19 total). Marshall noted Shepard seemed to have the ball in his hands every time he turned around and was getting out of his break.
Obviously there is work to be done, and Beckham’s presence can help Marshall, Manning and the offense be more productive. But the opportunities were there for Marshall on Sunday. The tape showed he doesn’t appear to be cooked.