The New York Giants made a lot of changes this offseason, hiring a new head coach (Pat Shurmur) and general manager (Dave Gettleman) and acquiring several new players, most notably Saquon Barkley, the Penn State running back drafted with the No. 2 overall pick.
The one big change they didn’t make was at the quarterback position, choosing to stick with Eli Manning behind center instead of selecting a rookie in the first round.
Through one game this season, the results of all those decisions are concerning. That doesn’t lie solely at Manning’s feet, but the fact remains that the same major issue that has plagued the Giants over the past two seasons remains: The offensive line is still one of the worst in the league, and Manning’s inconsistent accuracy hasn’t been enough to overcome it.
Despite making Nate Solder the league’s highest-paid left tackle (at the time) by signing him to a free-agent contract, and drafting guard Will Hernandez at the top of the second round, the Giants’ offensive line was thoroughly handled in a Week 1 loss to the Jaguars. On the ground, the line provided Saquon Barkley with all of 0.6 yards before contact per attempt. No back with 200 carries last year averaged less than 1.2 yards before contact per attempt. In pass protection, Manning was under pressure on 37.5 percent of his snaps, even though the Jaguars blitzed on only five of his 40 dropbacks.
While the Jaguars’ front four is unquestionably one of the league’s best, the Giants’ opponent this week is no slouch, either. Dallas’ pass rush actually graded out higher than Jacksonville’s a season ago, and only the Eagles’ front four ranked higher than Dallas’ during the 2017 campaign. With former first-round pick Taco Charlton looking much improved in his second season, the Cowboys’ defensive line presents a serious issue for the Giants this week.
The concern becomes even greater when considering that the Giants have moved Ereck Flowers to the side where the Cowboys’ best edge rusher, DeMarcus Lawrence, lines up. The switch to right tackle did nothing to alleviate the former first-rounder’s ineptitude in pass protection in the season opener. He allowed seven total pressures this past week to the Jaguars, including a sack and a hit, on 47 pass-blocking snaps. Perhaps even more concerning was Flowers’ explanation for his rough day, when he said that he struggled against Jacksonville’s Calais Campbell because he was unaware Campbell was more of a power rusher than a speed rusher — an answer that perhaps points to a lack of preparation, or common sense (Campbell is 6-foot-8 and 300 pounds), or both.
Meanwhile, in a loss to the Panthers, Lawrence produced five quarterback pressures on only 28 pass rushes. That’s a matchup Shurmur, the new head coach, will have to scheme around or undoubtedly lose.
To keep a consistent offense with the kind of pressure Manning will most likely face this Sunday, you need an accurate quarterback to continually keep the offense on schedule, even with defenders bearing down on him. Over the past few years, that hasn’t been Manning. The Giants quarterback averaged 5.3 yards per attempt and completed only 41.6 of his passes when under pressure last season — both among the worst figures in the league. In Week 1, it was the same story. On the 15 snaps he was under pressure, he completed only five of his 13 attempts for 37 yards while taking two sacks and throwing an interception.
Even when not under pressure, Manning’s accuracy has been an issue. Pro Football Focus tracked the ball placement of every single throw made in the NFL last season, and the only area of the field where Manning was more accurate than the average quarterback was in the intermediate range (10 to 19 yards past the line of scrimmage). On throws behind the line of scrimmage, from 0 to 9 yards downfield and 20-plus yards downfield, he vastly underperformed even the league average. His deep passing inaccuracy is easily the biggest concern. He was 6.7 percentage points worse than the average quarterback on those throws, and for an offense that features downfield threats such as Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram, that’s a lot of big plays left on the field.
It’s yet another problem from last season that has so far carried over into Week 1. Manning had Beckham running free through the end zone right before halftime and whiffed deep with a pass rusher in his face. At the start of the third quarter, Manning overthrew Beckham once again in the end zone, this time up the seam with another big window to make the throw. Then on a crucial fourth down with under two minutes to play, Shurmur dialed up a beautiful pick-wheel route that gave Shepard a ton of space on the outside — and Manning woefully underthrew the pass, allowing the defender back into the play.
If Manning really is going to turn back the clock with a new scheme, it didn’t happen last week.
The Giants’ offense is loaded with weapons, and Barkley showed why he was one of college football’s biggest stars by racking up 106 rushing yards in his debut, including an electrifying 68-yard touchdown run. But operating an offense with lots of skill-position talent but no offensive line is like trying to drive a Ferrari on bald tires. Sure, it will look pretty at times, but it’s liable to spin out at any moment.
Unless the offensive line comes together quickly, the Giants offense will continue to frustrate in 2018, and the stakes are high entering Sunday night’s matchup with the Cowboys. Both teams were NFC powerhouses two years ago, winning a combined 24 games, but neither came close to a playoff return last year. The loser of this matchup will drop to 0-2, putting its playoff chances on the ropes in a loaded NFC.
Mike Renner is a senior analyst for Pro Football Focus.
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