EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants still believe themselves capable of functioning at a high level on offense. They just don't have any proof to back that up. Not so far in 2013, at least.
Through four games, all losses, these Giants have failed to generate any kind of consistent competence on offense. The problems plague every level and take every possible form. There was the six-turnover game in Dallas, the seven-sack game in Carolina. Sunday in Kansas City, they snapped the ball only eight times in Chiefs territory, and not once in the red zone. They can't run. They can't pass. They can't catch. They can't block.
"Is it miserable?" offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride asked rhetorically Thursday. "Yes."
Gilbride is a proud and decorated coach. Together, he and Giants quarterback Eli Manning have won the Super Bowl twice under Tom Coughlin. They retain great confidence in the ability of Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks as receivers. They believe in David Wilson as a high-end talent at running back. And yet, to this point, they have been able to do nothing with their skill-position talent to help them win a game. They have scored 61 points in four games. Only Tampa Bay and Jacksonville have scored fewer.
"I think, if we give the quarterback time, I'm very confident he'll throw the ball well and give our guys a chance," Gilbride said. "I think we're getting better in the running game. I do believe we are headed in the right direction. Unfortunately, it's been painfully slow."
Sunday's game against the 1-3 Philadelphia Eagles will tell Gilbride and the Giants whether they're right about the direction. Because if they can't get the offense going against this Eagles defense, it's safe to assume they never will.
Each of the four teams the Giants have faced so far -- Dallas, Denver, Carolina and Kansas City -- has dominant front-seven defensive players who are playing at high levels, or were at the time the Giants faced them. The Eagles have some good players in their defensive front as well, but so far this season they are not playing good defense. They have allowed more yards than any team in the NFL, and the only team in the league that's allowed more points is ... well, it's the Giants.
If ever there was an opportunity for a struggling offense to get things together, it's in a game like this, at home against the struggling defense of a division rival.
"We know what's on the line, but we have to take advantage of it," Nicks said. "It's not about talking. It's about doing. If we go out there and play hard and do what we know we can do, it'll be in our favor."
Nicks is a big part of this. Cruz is playing lights-out, but to this point Nicks has not held up his end as the Giants' supposed No. 1 receiver on the outside. He didn't catch a single pass two weeks ago in Carolina, and he dropped a couple last week that he admits he should have caught. The big one down the left sideline stands out, and Nicks said his mistake was not separating from the defender earlier and instead trying to keep fighting him all the way down the field. As a result, he wasn't able to get both hands on Manning's well-thrown ball.
"Really rare," Coughlin said. "He usually gobbles those balls up."
So that's got to get better, and so does a run game that's 30th in the league at 57.8 yards per game. This is its chance, against an Eagles defense that allows 121.8. Da'Rel Scott was cut earlier in the week, which is the latest sign that the plan is to give Wilson the ball more and see what he can do with it. He continues to feel he's ultra-close to breaking a long one.
"A lot of things are close, but close doesn't win games," Wilson said. "We've got to get it together and give our fans something to cheer for."
Sunday is their chance, but Wilson and Nicks and Manning and Cruz can only do it if the blocking improves up front. The defenses the Giants have faced have been able to dictate the game by dominating them physically at the point of attack. The Giants' offensive line continues to struggle with injuries, and will make yet another change this week with the return of David Diehl from thumb surgery to slide in at right guard.
"I know my guys were fighting even though it didn't go our way," Diehl said. "No matter what happens, no matter what's said, we're a group that's going to keep coming out fighting."
The Giants haven't quit, and they haven't stopped believing they can play better. The facts of their case are grim: Only one team has ever reached the playoffs after an 0-4 start, and given their issues on defense they could very easily lose this game by being outscored and flummoxed by the Eagles' fast-paced offense. But win or lose, at this point the Giants would just like to feel they knew what they were doing on offense again, if only for one game. If Sunday's isn't that game, it's hard to believe such a game is coming at all.