Diagnosing New York Giants' Struggling Red-Zone Offense

Kevin BoilardCorrespondent IOctober 16, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 14:  Quarterback Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants calls signals against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on October 14, 2012 in San Francisco, California. The Giants won 26-3.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The New York Giants have had no trouble putting up points so far this season; they have averaged nearly 30 points per game.  However, many of their points have either been off big plays or the foot of kicker Lawrence Tynes. 

The New York offense has put itself in position to score more than almost every other team in the league.  According to teamrankings.com, New York and New England are tied for the most red-zone scoring attempts per game (4.8).

The Giants are not making the most of their opportunities, though, as their 44.83 percent red zone scoring percentage ranks 22nd in the league.  That rate is simply not going to cut it, and some of the players are starting to take notice.

Against the 49ers, the red-zone deficiency was especially noticeable, as New York was consistently given a short field but repeatedly failed to punch the ball in.  Wide receiver Domenik Hixon explained his frustration with the team’s red-zone struggles during a press conference with the New York media on Monday:

We were talking last night on the plane with the two turnovers that the defense got us and we were right there in the red zone knocking on the door and we settled for field goals. We would love to turn both of those into seven points and try to increase the lead and, thankfully, the defense continued to play lights out and only held them to three points, but for sure, we'd like to turn those turnovers into seven points instead of three.

Hixon speaks on everyone’s behalf, but it’s one thing to identify a problem and another to solve it.  It’s difficult to understand how such a high-powered offense can come up short on so many occasions, yet it’s something that head coach Tom Coughlin, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and quarterback Eli Manning have to figure out.

Some of the blame has to be placed on the absence of wide receiver Hakeem Nicks.  Manning connected with Nicks for seven touchdowns a season ago, and five of them were from inside the 20-yard line. 

Manning’s favorite route when looking for Nicks in the end zone is the back corner fade.  When executed perfectly, the play is practically indefensible.  However, to execute the play perfectly, the quarterback and receiver need to have flawless timing.

While Nicks has fought admirably to stay on the field, it’s impossible to ignore the adverse effects his recent injuries have had on the red-zone offense.  After breaking his foot in OTAs, Nicks missed all of training camp, which is a receiver’s most valuable practice time to refine the timing with his quarterback.

Things haven’t gotten much better with the start of the season, as Nicks’s foot and knee injuries have already caused him to miss three of the team’s six games this year.  Even when Nicks is in the lineup, he has not been a factor close to the goal line.  His only touchdown of the season was from outside the 20-yard line.

Clearly, the Manning-Nicks connection needs some more time to develop, but the Giants can’t sit around and wait for it to happen.  In the meantime, New York needs to explore some other viable red-zone options.

The Giants have been creative in the red zone before.  For example, New York ran a nifty pass play against the Eagles in which Manning hit backup tight end Bear Pascoe, an unlikely target, for a six-yard touchdown.  However, at times it seems like the Giants are overlooking some of their more obvious red-zone targets.

Tight end Martellus Bennett, who is 6’7”, caught three touchdown passes in the first three games, two of which were from inside the 20-yard line.  Bennett’s strong start to the season led everyone to believe that he would be a big-time red-zone target, but Manning and Bennett have failed to connect for a touchdown in each of the past three games.

And don’t forget about wide receiver Ramses Barden, who is also listed at 6’7”.  One would imagine that his height would also prove to be valuable inside the red zone, but Manning has never thrown a touchdown pass to Barden during his four-year career.

Perhaps the best way for the Giants to avoid the confusion surrounding their plethora of red-zone passing targets is to not pass the ball at all.  Sometimes when playing in such close proximity to the goal line, the passing game is just too cluttered and receivers have a tough time finding space to get open.

A balanced attack in the red zone may result in more touchdowns and less field goal attempts.  Running back Ahmad Bradshaw has been running with a purpose lately and should be given more of a chance to match his nine-touchdown performance from a season ago.  The Giants should also use rookie David Wilson, whose shiftiness and growing confidence could really help the New York offense find the end zone.

Regardless of how they do it, New York’s running backs need to be more involved in the red-zone offense.  If they can keep teams guessing, chances are that they’ll be able to catch them off guard at least once in a given trip to the red zone.  The goal is to avoid predictability, and the Giants need to do that by expanding upon the plays they already run from inside their opponents’ 20-yard line.