Matt Williamson is a former scout for the Cleveland Browns, and spent the last 10 years at ESPN as a scout and co-host of “The Football Today Podcast.”
The Giants have lost three straight after winning their first two games of the season. They sit at the bottom of the mediocre, but certainly better than expected, NFC East as the only team in the division with a losing record, and are two games behind Dallas for the divisional lead.
All is not lost for New York and there is a lot to like with this roster, but Ben McAdoo, in his first year as a head coach, is facing a lot of adversity with his team right now. What is going wrong?
No running game
The Packers scoffed at New York’s running game on Sunday night. Green Bay is by far the best run defense in the league right now and consistently kept two deep safeties well off the line of scrimmage, as they had no fear of the Giants being able to beat them on the ground.
Now, this is an extreme case, since Green Bay has been so good against the run and so poor versus the pass, but New York should expect to see such tactics going forward. Although they never needed to go completely to “catch up mode” in this game, the Giants still only ran the ball 15 times against these light Green Bay fronts.
They featured a highly unremarkable cast of Bobby Rainey, Orleans Darkwa, and Paul Perkins to amass just 43 rushing yards. Rainey is a better player than most realize, and Perkins could provide a spark once he gets better in pass protection, but any way you cut it, the Giants need far more from their running game.
Flawed defensive makeup
The way that New York has built its roster on the defensive side of the ball hasn’t changed. No team in the league neglects the linebacker position as much as the Giants. Instead, New York puts premium resources into their defensive line and cornerbacks.
Steve Spagnuolo has a diverse blitz package, but ideally, New York rushes four and generates a great deal of pressure from their high-priced defensive line while making life easier on their linebackers and safeties with extra bodies in coverage. While this has worked well for years with great players like Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck leading the way, there is a potential flaw in the plan and it was exposed in Green Bay.
First off, the Packers have an exceptional offensive line, so the Giants could have much more success in this capacity over the next two weeks against Baltimore and Los Angeles before their bye. But the problem is that while New York’s defensive tackles are superb run defenders, they offer very little pass rush, and the Giants really don’t have an interior pass-rushing specialist to pull off the bench. Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon are fine players, but one more asset here would go a long way, as every team is going to dedicate more attention to these two in their protection schemes.
Maybe the Giants bump Pierre-Paul and Vernon inside more, as they did with Tuck, and bring Owamagbe Odighizuwa off the bench to provide more pressure. This is just one suggestion and the Giants could do more blitzing as well, but it should be noted that even though Aaron Rodgers had a lot of time to throw Sunday night, the back seven of this defense held up quite well considering those circumstances. So, while this is concerning, it isn’t time to overreact.
Eli Manning struggling
Eli Manning has not played well for three games in a row, and not coincidentally, New York is 0-3 over that stretch. He has been uncomfortable in the pocket and seems to only have eyes for Odell Beckham, who, of course, is always garnering extra attention from opposing coverage schemes. Beckham caught five passes for 56 yards in Week 5, but combined with Victor Cruz and Sterling Shepard to amass just a measly seven receptions for seventy yards, with Cruz shut out in the box score.
As stated above, Green Bay’s game plan to keep two deep safeties contributed to these problems Sunday night. Manning’s struggles the week prior came against a Vikings defense that is shutting down its opponents on a regular basis, but the Giants quarterback still needs to find a way to spread the ball more efficiently. Plus, he has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns over the past three games.
In a system that predominantly utilizes three-receiver sets, and with zero running game to provide balance, the New York offense is squarely on Manning’s shoulders. His offensive line, particularly at the tackle spots, has not helped his cause, and the Giants have little presence at the tight end position, but the veteran signal-caller also deserves quite a bit of the blame here as well.
Manning has been up and down throughout his career, but what is possibly more troubling is McAdoo’s offense’s struggles in the red zone. This was a problem in 2015 as well and hasn’t improved. The Giants settled far too often for field goals in Green Bay, which isn’t going to get it done if they are to win the NFC East.
Still, as dominating as the Packers appeared to be for the majority of this game, by no means were the Giants ever out, and after Beckham’s late touchdown, they really weren’t far from making it interesting. The rest of New York’s season is set to be very intriguing and could go either way at this point.