But now that Elliott has been suspended for six games by the NFL under its personal conduct policy, pending the outcome of his appeal, it’s not clear if the Cowboys remain the NFC front-runner. What if Elliott’s suspension stands and his absence costs the Cowboys a win or two early in the season? That’s enough to tilt the balance of power in the conference.
The Giants, who face the Cowboys on the opening Sunday night of the regular season, stand to benefit. They were a playoff team last season before bowing out with an opening-round defeat at Green Bay. More could be reasonably expected this season.
But it doesn’t work without Beckham.
The Giants fixed their defense last season. A unit that had coughed up one late lead after another during a 2015 season that cost a two-time Super Bowl-winning coach, Tom Coughlin, his job was transformed into a reliable defense, thanks in large part to a free agent spending spree. The Giants ranked 10th in the league last season in total defense. They were second in the NFL in scoring defense.
The offense was another matter entirely. The Giants ranked 25th in the league in total offense and 26th in scoring offense. Yes, the major upgrades before last season had come on defense. But the promotion of Ben McAdoo from offensive coordinator to head coach and the growth of quarterback Eli Manning in McAdoo’s system were supposed to ensure that the offense would be fine. It wasn’t. It was good enough for the Giants to be a playoff team, thanks to the improvement on defense. But it wasn’t good enough for the Giants to be anything more than that.
For the Giants to take the next step, the offense must be better this season. The addition of Brandon Marshall to complement Beckham at wide receiver should help (provided that he, too, is healthy after hurting his shoulder Monday night). But so much revolves around Beckham.
It is easy to focus solely on the otherworldly, superhuman catches. They are breathtaking. But just as important is his ceaseless, consistent production. He has topped 1,300 receiving yards and he has had at least 10 touchdown catches in each of his three NFL seasons. That’s while playing a full 16-game regular season only once.
He is the one legitimate game-breaker the Giants possess on offense. He gets his catches, his yards and his touchdowns even with opposing defenses focusing intently on him. And all of that attention opens things up for other receivers and for whatever semblance of a running game the Giants are able to muster.
Beckham is scheduled to undergo an MRI exam Tuesday. The Giants must cross their fingers and hope that the test results leave the outlook as promising as it seemed late Monday night.