LIGHT THE FUSE

Gi­ants have the weapons, but it’s up to Eli to...

New York Daily News - - SPORTS - GI­ANTS PAT LEONARD

Eli Man­ning’s Gi­ants of­fense scored three points the last time he played in Dal­las, with­out an in­jured Odell Beck­ham Jr. last Septem­ber. Man­ning’s of­fense then scored just 15 points last Sun­day with a healthy Beck­ham on the field.

Man­ning threw zero touch­down passes and had an in­ter­cep­tion re­turned for a Jags TD. And so the Gi­ants in­cred­i­bly lost by five, de­spite trail­ing Jack­sonville only 13-6 at half­time and the de­fense shut­ting out the Jags the en­tire sec­ond half. That is called find­ing a way to lose. So, sure, the sto­ry­line ‘Can the Gi­ants De­fense Stop Ezekiel El­liott?’ is per­ti­nent for this Sun­day night’s Gi­ants (0-1) show­down at Dal­las (0-1). James Bettcher’s ‘D’ cer­tainly has more to prove against power backs af­ter the Jags’ Leonard Four­nette rum­bled for 41 yards on nine car­ries be­fore suf­fer­ing a ham­string in­jury in Week 1.

But the real story here is that Man­ning needs to score points. Man­ning needs to make a play.

Be­cause John Mara and Steve Tisch just hired an­other of­fen­sive coach in Pat Shur­mur to fig­ure out a side of the ball that the Gi­ants con­sis­tently haven’t got­ten right. Be­cause Shur­mur called a good enough game in Week 1 to beat the Jaguars, 23-13 -- de­spite the of­fen­sive line’s de­fi­cien­cies and four dropped passes -- in­stead of los­ing, 20-15.

Be­cause Saquon Barkley gave Man­ning a 68-yard touch­down run and they still lost. And be­cause Beck­ham was open for two touch­down passes that never landed in his hands, be­cause Man­ning didn’t do his part.

The op­por­tu­ni­ties were there, at least, thanks to play de­sign and tal­ent. So there is hope, es­pe­cially go­ing against a Dal­las Cow­boys team that scored only eight points in a 16-8 Week 1 loss at Carolina.

“If we do things just a lit­tle bit bet­ter in some ar­eas, then that score is way dif­fer­ent and the out­come might be way dif­fer­ent,” Shur­mur said Thurs­day be­fore prac­tice. “And those are the things you work on in prac­tice to make sure that the next time those come up, you hit on them.”

It de­pends on how you look at it, then: are the missed op­por­tu­ni­ties signs of a Gi­ants of­fen­sive ex­plo­sion up­com­ing against Dal­las or more ev­i­dence that Man­ning doesn’t have much left?

Con­sider: Beck­ham gained 155 yards on 14 plays last Sun­day, catching 11 passes for 111 yards, rush­ing once for -1 yards, and draw­ing 30yard and 15-yard pass in­ter­fer­ence penal­ties on the Jaguars’ vaunted sec­ondary.

But if Man­ning had been ac­cu­rate on his two over­thrown missed TD pass at­tempts, and if Ereck Flow­ers hadn’t negated OBJ’s early 6-yard re­cep­tion with a penalty, Beck­ham would have ac­counted for 207 yards and two touch­downs on seven­teen plays.

He was on pace to do this against a Jags de­fense that had al­lowed an av­er­age of just 169.9 pass­ing yards in 2017.

“Maybe I need to do more then,” Beck­ham said of the Gi­ants’ un­usual 7-13 record in the games he’s pro­duced 100 or more re­ceiv­ing yards. “You can put to­gether a 100-yard game … but if you’re not putting points on the board it’s hard to win games. So we need to put more points on the board. If I need to step up and do more, I’ll step up and do more. That’s what I plan on do­ing.”

Beck­ham needs help to do more, though. He can draw the Jaguars into what Beck­ham called the “Hack-AShaq” strat­egy, pass in­ter­fer­ence penal­ties by both Jaguars DBs Barry Church and Jalen Ram­sey on the fi­nal pos­ses­sion of Sun­day’s first half that brought the Gi­ants of­fense to Jack­sonville’s 11-yard line.

But he needed Man­ning to put the ball where it was sup­posed to be to cap the drive with a touch­down. Man­ning, who ad­mit­ted in a ra­dio in­ter­view this week that ide­ally his throw on the play would go to­wards the “cor­ner,” in­stead rushed an over­throw un­der pres­sure over the mid­dle of the field.

He then missed Beck­ham on a deep post early in the third quar­ter in the end zone on a play Man­ning con­tin­ues to blame on Beck­ham’s route, their mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion about it, and Church’s bump of Beck­ham.

Beck­ham said Thurs­day of the missed con­nec­tion: “It’s just first game stuff, every­body get­ting on the same page and just con­nect­ing. Like, you’ve got to hit those. And we didn’t con­nect on that one, but it’s the first game of the sea­son, OK, we can watch all that film, next time we hit it. The rest of the times, we start hit­ting it.”

Man­ning needs to be bet­ter, like mostly ev­ery­one else on that side of the ball.

“Like the whole of­fense, I think there was some signs of re­ally good play,” of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Mike Shula said Thurs­day. “I love the way (Man­ning) moved in the pocket. He gets the ball out fast. We just weren’t quite con­sis­tent enough. We just had a cou­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties there where if we hit ’em, we can get points on the board and then it would be a to­tally dif­fer­ent ball game. So I think he’s like every­body else, work­ing on be­ing more con­sis­tent.”

This is in­creas­ingly press­ing be­cause Barkley looks like the real deal. He is ex­ud­ing con­fi­dence af­ter his Week 1 de­but. The rookie run­ning back said Thurs­day that “the sky’s the limit” for this of­fense if they put all the pieces to­gether. And he said even be­fore Sun­day’s game against Jack­sonville, he had “no doubt at all” that he’d be ca­pa­ble of such an elec­tric touch­down run at the NFL level that he’d ex­e­cuted many times at Penn State.

“You be­lieve that any time you touch the ball you can score,” Barkley said. “A lot of it’s just re­ac­tion, watch­ing film, and be­liev­ing in your­self, see­ing the de­fense, see­ing how we’re go­ing to at­tack them, con­tin­u­ing to gain be­lief. That’s how those big plays hap­pen.

“The thing that I took from the first game is it’s just like col­lege, to be com­pletely hon­est,” Barkley added. “When I say that I don’t mean the speed, I don’t mean the phys­i­cal­ity. I mean just that you’ve got to con­tinue to stick with it. Es­pe­cially at run­ning back, con­tinue to grind out those tough runs and con­tinue to tell the O-line that one’s gonna split. And when they give you an op­por­tu­nity, take ad­van­tage of it.”

Barkley is re­fer­ring to the ad­ver­sity of the Gi­ants’ 22 other car­ries for a measly 46 yards (2.09 per carry) not in­clud­ing his touch­down run. Cer­tainly, against an ath­letic Cow­boys de­fense led by LB Sean Lee and a pass rush paced by DeMar­cus Lawrence, the be­lea­guered Gi­ants of­fen­sive line will have its hands full again.

There are two game-break­ing tal­ents on this team, though, who can put the Gi­ants’ of­fense on their backs and win this cru­cial game for the road team. All Man­ning has to do is make sure he gets Beck­ham and Barkley the ball.

GETTY

Eli Man­ning has to set up Odell Beck­ham and Saquon Barkley to do their jobs for Gi­ants to have a chance against Cow­boys.

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