The Giants emerged from “America’s Game of the Week” vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers battered, injured, and most importantly, outplayed in a 24-14 loss. The Giants normally stout run defense (82 yards per game the last six weeks) was overpowered by Le’Veon Bell, who finished with 83 of his 118 yards in the second half. Big Ben didn’t have all day to throw, but he had a solid performance, passing for nearly 300 yards and 2 touchdowns, including an incredible 22 yard strike to Antonio Brown. But the Giants defense does not deserve the blame in this one. The Steelers are scoring 29 points per game at home this season and rookie Eli Apple had both an interception and fumble recovery to keep the Giant’s hopes alive.
But despite the offense’s putrid performance, including two turnovers inside the Steelers’ 10 yard line, Big Blue had a chance to win this game. Both yardage and time of possession were heavily skewed in Pittsburgh’s favor, but twice in the 4th quarter the Giants had the ball inside the Steelers’ 30 looking to put points on the board. These types of situations are indicative of the Giants season against good competition in 2016. New York has never really been out of a game all season; their worst defeat came at the hands of the Vikings in week 4. Even in that game, despite being pushed around all day by a physical Minnesota defense, twice the Giants had possession inside the Vikings’ 35 and came up empty. They lost by 14.
Most experts blame the Giants abysmal running “attack” and lack of wide receiver depth behind Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard, but it’s the offensive line that is quietly getting a free pass. I am sick and tired of hearing about how Eli Manning gets sacked only 1.3 times per game (tied for 2nd in the NFL). Manning isn’t getting sacked because he is being forced to get rid of the ball in under 3 seconds almost every play. The Giants run the 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB set on 96% of their plays, and teams have figured them out. Rashad Jennings is simply not strong enough or quick enough to run in these pass heavy formations, so even when defenses essentially ignore the giants ground game, Big Blue grinds out an abysmal 3.5 yards per carry. With the run game neutralized, teams let their edge rushers loose, blitz against poor blocking tight ends Larry Donnell and Will Tye, and constantly double-team Odell Beckham. Beckham is a superstar player and a top 3 NFL wide receiver, but he struggles against physical man coverage and has lost his cool on multiple occasions. The result is that teams are forcing Sterling Shepard (a promising receiver, but a rookie) and Victor Cruz (a shell of his 2011 self) to beat them. And they aren’t. Not only that, but with the constant usage of the 3 receiver set, these guys are getting almost no plays off; Giant’s receivers not named Beckham, Shepard, and Cruz have combined for 9 catches on 21 targets.
So what do the Giants do going forward? Open up the playbook toward other formations? Run the ball more? Give younger receivers some more chances? Unfortunately, with an offensive line that can’t protect Manning for more than a heartbeat and a running back that is only good for a two yard halfback dive, the Giants are running out of options. After their 6 game winning streak, there was buzz among NFL fans and analysts that it may be the Giants year. If they were comparing these Giants to the 2011 squad that beat the #1 and #2 seeds in the NFC and the #1 seeded Patriots in the super bowl, they’re out of their minds. Although the defense came alive late in the season, the team was carried by their offense, as Manning broke an NFL record by throwing 15 4th quarter TD passes. If anything, 2016 feels like 2007; where a sloppy passing game was picked up by some stellar pass rush and solid secondary play. But the Giants haven’t shown that they have that magic just yet. The problem with the Giants is that I don’t think they have the tools to improve their offense dramatically, Odell and Eli are just going to have to play out of their minds and the offensive line must at least remain mediocre. If the Giants offense can return to middle of the pack and the team leans more heavily on their defense, maybe they have a chance. We’ll see if the Giants can turn it around, starting with the Cowboys Sunday night.