Geno Smith's opportunity with Giants comes with a major caveat

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Geno Smith may not know what he is in for when he takes the reins from Eli Manning. This is a New York Giants offense that has struggled for the better part of two years, and one that isn't exactly overflowing with talent.

The lineup they put on the field last Thursday night in Washington alongside Manning was almost unrecognizable. It had a right guard making his first career start. It had a right tackle making his second career start. It had a center, two starting wide receivers and a running back who all came into the season as backups, and none had started more than two career games prior to this year.

To no surprise, the Giants' offense struggled on Thanksgiving against the Redskins with Manning at quarterback. They've struggled most of the past two seasons, and they are 31st in the NFL in averaging 15.6 points per game. They managed one first down in the second half Thursday night, and that came on their final drive when the game was out of reach.

This is what Smith, who joined the Giants as a free agent this offseason, inherits. He's on a one-year deal and knows this game is a showcase for all 32 teams.

He will lead this group against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday afternoon:

Offensive line -- (from left to right) Ereck Flowers, John Jerry, Brett Jones, Jon Halapio, Chad Wheeler

Wide receivers -- Sterling Shepard, Roger Lewis, Tavarres King

Tight end -- Evan Engram

Running Backs -- Orleans Darkwa, Wayne Gallman, Shane Vereen

It's not exactly a star-studded lineup. There is no Odell Beckham Jr. or Brandon Marshall to make plays. There is no Justin Pugh or Weston Richburg to protect Smith for whoever is behind center, or no guard D.J. Fluker to open holes for the running backs.

It can be argued the Giants' only plus-player (top half of the league among starters at their position this season) on offense with Shepard out the past two games with a migraine was Engram. And he played the worst game of his career against the Redskins.

The only saving grace for Smith may be that he should get Shepard back on Sunday. The Giants' leading receiver -- who's missed 3 1/2 games -- has been a full participant in practice this week. His return would be a major boost to an offense that lacks playmakers.

"He's had a good couple days of practice, and it's good to have one of your better players back in the mix," coach Ben McAdoo said.

What could help his offense is Smith using his legs. Smith has more mobility than Manning (who doesn't?) and should need it with the Giants' offensive tackles matched against All-Pro defensive end Khalil Mack. He has 6.5 sacks and 16 quarterback hits this season.

The Giants have hit the third-fewest pass plays of over 20 yards this season. Smith may be able to help in that category.

"I think he'll keep drives alive. When the play breaks down, he's definitely going to be a dual-threat guy," Shepard said. "He can extend plays, and you know a spiral is coming at you when it's coming."

Smith doesn't have the resume or the mastery of the offense like Manning. Checking into the right runs or plays might be a problem. He hasn't played a lot at all over the past few years.

Slinging the football still isn't a concern.

"He has arm talent," Giants offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said. "He has a very live arm, and he has mobility to extend some plays."

Hey, it can't hurt. It's not like the Giants' offense can get much worse than it was on Thanksgiving, when they managed just three points and 141 total yards. They also happen to be facing the 27th-ranked passing defense, which is allowing 244.8 yards per game.

That could help Smith take advantage of this opportunity, even with the questionable supporting cast at his disposal.