G-Men offense faces pivotal moment in NFC East battle with the Cowboys
While the season is still young, Sunday night will be a moment of truth for the Giants.
Another poor performance from the offensive line, and fans could be in for some déjà vu in spite of all the positive changes from the new regime. But an explosive scoring output would likely steer New York to a 1-1 record and instantly silence concerns.
There was no reason for the Giants to panic after last Sunday’s 20-15 loss to Jacksonville, which boasts perhaps the NFL’s most premier defense. Yet, plenty of potent linemen await on an unforgiving schedule, continuing with Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.
“The guy assigned to block him has to block him,” head coach Pat Shurmur said this week. “He’s certainly been very disruptive. The thing about him is, he’s long, he’s got a twitch and he can get going quickly. He’s relentless, he plays hard throughout the game, so you’ve got a full day with him. You’ve got to block him 65 or 70 times, or he’ll disrupt the game.”
In other words, Ereck Flowers must hold his own for the Giants’ offense to be successful in a key NFC East battle. The maligned former first-round pick fared abysmally in his debut at right tackle against the Jags, committing two penalties and yielding a sack.
It’s likely the Giants will dole more protection to the right side, whether it be chipping from tight ends and running backs, or deploying tight ends as blockers on the line. There are feasible adjustments. Rhett Ellison and Scott Simonson, who offer more as blockers than receivers, played only 29 and three offensive snaps, respectively, out of 71 in the season opener.
Still, there is a fine line. The Giants want to mix up protections and stay unpredictable. They ultimately need wins in 1-on-1s with their offensive linemen, because too many blockers compensates the receiving game with fewer routes.
Lawrence, Dallas’ top passrushing threat, is coming off a career season where he compiled 14.5 sacks and was named a Second Team All-Pro.
“It’s whether or not you want a five-man protection or sixman protection or seven-man protection,” offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. “Guys got to know what they’re doing, know where their help is, got to get the ball out on time and then when we have backs or tight ends helping out, chipping on the way out or involved with protection, we got to do a good job with that, too.”
Despite protection issues with their rebuilt offensive line, the Giants failed to cash in on chances to score more touchdowns against the Jags.
Early in the third quarter, Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. couldn’t connect in the end zone on a 33-yard post route. Beckham had a favorable matchup with a safety in quarters coverage, but Beckham was bumped just as Manning released the ball — enough to disrupt the timing. The Giants blocked well enough to maintain a clean pocket.
With 11 seconds left in the first half, pressure caved in on Manning as he was forced to throw off-balance to Beckham on a slant from the 13-yard line. But instead of passing toward the sideline, Manning aimed toward the end line and lobbed the ball well over Beckham’s head.
The Giants’ lone touchdown was a 69-yard run by Saquon Barkley in the fourth quarter. The prized No. 2 overall pick out of Penn State is one component of New York’s revamped weaponry, which has to pay dividends soon if the Giants are to avoid a dreaded 0-2 hole.
Otherwise, the pressure will begin to mount with the threat of the season spiraling out of control the way it did last year.
“I think it’s just everybody understanding their assignments just a little bit crisper, just execution,” said Manning, who completed 23-of-37 attempts for 224 yards with an interception. “Just make sure everybody knows exactly what’s going on. You just never know when that one mistake or little route here or assignment here can make a difference in a game. Just doing every little thing right. That’s on everybody, starting with me and the things I can do better.”
Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) gets away from Jaguars’ Tashaun Gipson (39) on his way to a fourth-quarter touchdown during the Giants’ season opener last Sunday at MetLife Stadium.