EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The New York Giants are four games into the season, four games into the Pat Shurmur era, and already they are in search for answers. Not to any new or unique problems. It’s really the same woes that plagued the team for much of the past three or four years.
The Giants can’t sustain offense. They can’t move the ball consistently or score points. And now they can’t even throw the ball downfield. Quarterback Eli Manning has completed just three of 12 passes of 20-plus yards downfield this season.
Something has to give or else the Giants (1-3) are going to be headed to another disastrous season after a 33-18 home loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. They have to make alterations before it's another year of meaningless November and December football for the once proud franchise.
The question is what kind of changes are viable and realistic, and what is Shurmur willing and able to do in order to try to fix this mess of an offense? Offense is, after all, supposed to be his area of expertise, and he vehemently rejected the idea of there being any massive changes on the horizon.
“No," he said sternly on Sunday. "We need to get better. What does that mean, massive changes? We need to get better.”
The Giants already benched Ereck Flowers and replaced him at right tackle with Chad Wheeler. That has been met with moderate success. They have Jon Greco at center in place of starter Jon Halapio, who was lost for the season with a broken ankle.
The big move isn’t there to be made for this Giants team. They can’t change quarterbacks now, even if Manning is underperforming. What do they have behind him at this point? A career journeyman in Alex Tanney as the backup with one game of NFL experience and a rookie out of the Football Subdivision in Kyle Lauletta.
Lauletta’s not ready. Neither Lauletta nor Tanney appear capable of saving this season. Maybe if the season continues on its current path Lauletta enters the lineup late in the season to gain some experience, but he’ll inevitably take his rookie lumps.
So what can the Giants do heading into a matchup against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday?
The Giants drafted Saquon Barkley second overall. He’s by trade a running back, albeit one with a unique skillset that allows him to be a menace to opposing defenses as a receiver. Shurmur had Barkley carry the ball five times in the first half on Sunday. This with the Saints sitting back in a zone defense to protect against the deep pass.
The Cover 2 defense with two safeties deep once again did in the Giants. One solution is to that is to run the ball. Fewer defenders in the box means more chances for the offense to be successful.
Shurmur called eight runs (one being an end-around to Odell Beckham Jr.) and 17 passes during a close first half. Some of that surely had to do with New Orleans’ stout run defense and porous secondary. Still, this is becoming a trend.
“No, I think there were times we tried to run the ball,” Shurmur said when asked if Barkley could've gotten more work. “I don’t regret it; he needs to touch the ball. Certainly by the looks of things [on the stat sheet], him touching the ball more would be good.”
The Giants are 28th in the NFL averaging 20.5 rushing attempts per game. They’re not stressing opposing defenses in that area. The threat of the run is minimal, and it’s adversely affecting their play-action pass game. Manning has the seventh-most play-action dropbacks, but the 19th-most yards with just 292 yards and no touchdowns.
Beckham’s targets have gone 15, 9, 10, 11. The nine and 11 in Weeks 2 and 4 were skewed by late catches when the game was all but out of reach. They were close to meaningless.
The Giants' offense not surprisingly has been most successful in Weeks 1 and 3 when they targeted Beckham early and often. Maybe that needs to be a top priority -- throw the ball to their top playmaker, sometimes even if he’s covered.
Teams are double and triple-teaming him on a regular basis. So what?
“It’s one play away still, I have been getting double- and triple-teamed for the past five years, nothing has changed,” Beckham said. “Safeties over the top, linebackers dropping. Like I said, it’s really about all the pieces coming together.”
Beckham has a propensity to make plays or even draw penalties. Getting him the ball is almost always a good option. When Manning targeted him downfield in the opener, the Jaguars were flagged twice for costly pass interference penalties.
More opportunities for Beckham likely means more big plays for the Giants.
Continue to chip away
The Giants can keep doing what they’re doing, with better execution. They’ve been trying to move the pocket for Manning more in recent weeks in order to give him a few more seconds. They’ve been preaching eliminating penalties and mental mistakes in order to avoid second- and third-and-long situations.
The win over Houston (where they scored a season-high 27 points) provided a glimmer of hope. The loss to the Saints was clearly a setback. They insist it’s not time to hit the panic button knowing this is a new offense that Shurmur installed back in the spring.
“Not big changes. It’s little things,” wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. “It’s one guy not doing their job. Can’t turn the ball over. Just little things like that. In the red zone, we have to put up points. I don’t think we need to change anything, it’s just fine-tuning stuff like that.”
This is the approach that Shurmur is preaching. Maybe it will prove to be right. It took the Vikings offense time to hit its stride when he took over for Norv Turner in 2016. They didn’t really become a well-oiled unit until the following season.
Shurmur may be taking the long-term approach here as well.
“You just keep working,” he said. “You just keep working and you play your way out of it and you coach your way out of it. Period. That’s what you do, and that’s the reality of it, and that’s what I trust our guys and our coaches will do.”