The New York Giants are in the midst of a two-game losing streak and have not had an impressive performance in a month. Therefore, despite a 6-4 record and first-place status in the NFC East, it is not surprising that this team has plenty to improve during their current bye week.
Here are five areas the Giants need to focus on before their next game against the Green Bay Packers in Week 12 on Sunday Night Football.
Even the biggest Eli Manning supporter has to admit he has stunk over his last four games. The stats back up what the eyes have seen—217 yards per game, 1 TD, 6 INT's and a 57.5% Comp—in these four contests.
The startling realization is that Manning hasn't exactly faced a murderer's row of passing defenses during this stretch. The only team in his last four games that rank in the top 15 in QB rating allowed is the Steelers, who are fifth in the NFL, allowing a QB rating of only 77.9.
What can Manning do to break out of his slump? I don't see anything mechanically wrong with his throwing motion or footwork. He may be a little tired due to the late bye week but that doesn't explain how poorly he has played.
The main reason for the slump is mental not physical—namely his willingness to force things when the rest of the offense is struggling. For instance, last week against the Bengals, Manning actually played well through the first two-and-a-half quarters, despite his receivers inability to consistently get open and the offensive line providing poor pass protection. He completed 17 of his first 22 passes for over 150 yards and avoided turning the ball over.
Then, all of a sudden, Manning tried to force a pass to Ramses Barden, and the ball somehow ended up in the hands of Bengals defensive lineman Pat Sims. One series later, after the Bengals extended their lead with a touchdown to 24-6, Manning severely under threw Martellus Bennett and Nate Clements made him pay with another interception. This led to another Cincinnati touchdown and the game was all but over.
The Giants won the Super Bowl last year mainly for two reasons: they consistently pressured the opposing team's quarterback and made big plays in the passing game.
The latter has been sorely missing over the last three weeks.
The Giants only have four receptions over 20 yards in their last three games, and none of them have gone for a touchdown. This is compared to 27 catches over 20 yards in the first seven games of the season.
To dig a little deeper, only two of the four 20+ yard receptions were for more than 30 yards and the longest reception of 56 yards doesn't even belong to Victor Cruz or Hakeem Nicks. The recipient of this pass was rookie Reuben Randle all of the way back in the first quarter of the Dallas game. And the Giants didn't even score a touchdown on that drive—they had to settle for a field goal (more on this later).
It's obvious that opponents have made it a point to limit the big play potential in the Giants passing attack. They have done this by playing off the receivers and also pressuring Manning so that the deep pass doesn't have time to develop. Big Blue needs to figure out a way to overcome these adjustments and get their crop of talented pass catchers vertical. This may be the biggest challenge they need to overcome if they expect to repeat as champions.
Allowing big pass plays on defense has been a problem all season. The Giants rank 27th in the NFL with 7.5 yards allowed per pass attempt. They have surrendered a whopping 39 pass plays of 20 yards or more, which averages out to almost four per game.
More recently, long pass plays have been directly tied to losses. The Steelers started their fourth-quarter comeback against Big Blue in Week 9 on a 51-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace. A week later, A.J. Green stunned the Giants less than three minutes into the game with a 56-yard touchdown catch to give the Bengals a 7-0 lead—a lead they would never relinquish.
This trend could be even worse if Dez Bryant had smaller fingers and hauled in this 37-yard potential game-winning touchdown pass.
The main culprit in allowing opposing offenses to air it out has been Corey Webster, but he is not alone. Safety Stevie Brown, despite a team-high five interceptions, can be exposed in coverage, as he was most recently on the Green-opening drive score. Rookie Jayron Hosley and Prince Amukamara have also been the victims of several big plays each.
Improvement is needed across the entire secondary to fix this major problem in time for the stretch run. A healthy return by Kenny Phillips wouldn't hurt either.
This is another issue that hasn't suddenly appeared during the Giants recent struggles. According to TeamRankings.com, New York is 27th in the NFL in red-zone touchdown-scoring percentage at a woeful 43.9 percent. This compares to a respectable ninth place finish in this category in 2011, when they scored a touchdown on 54.93 percent of their red-zone visits.
What saves this offense and makes them largely effective is that they get to the red zone a lot. Big Blue is third in the league with 4.1 red-zone visits per game, which is actually better than the 3.5 visits they made per game in 2011.
If you get inside the red zone a lot and don't score touchdowns, what usually happens? You kick a ton of field goals. Lawrence Tynes leads the NFL in overall field-goal attempts with 31 and attempts inside 40 yards with 22. Luckily, he has made all but three field goals this season, with each of his misses coming from longer than 40 yards.
The popular argument among fans when a team struggles in the red zone is that there needs to be more creative play-calling. Design more screen passes, use the tight end or get the quarterback rolling out are all plays that are desired after by fans for a struggling red zone attack.
Execution, however, is really the key when it comes to consistently scoring touchdowns inside the 20. If the offensive line blocks, the quarterback is accurate and the receivers catch the ball it's amazing how much easier it is to put six on the board, even when there is limited room to maneuver.
Ever since the Giants took a 23-0 lead early in the second quarter of the Cowboys game in Week 8 they have seemed to lack a sense of urgency. It's almost as if they thought they had the division wrapped up with that lead and what appeared to be an inevitable win over their hated rival.
Two losses later they still hold a 1.5 game edge in the NFC East, but things could be a whole lot tighter by kickoff of their next game against the Packers. The second-place Cowboys play the 2-7 Browns at home this upcoming Sunday and follow with the 3-6 Redskins in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day. The Cowboys have been known to disappoint, but it certainly looks like they will be a half game behind the Giants entering next weekend.
As is their way, Big Blue has virtually erased their margin for error. Now it's time to maintain control of their division with renewed focus over their last six games.