After six winless weeks, we've seen a slightly different-looking New York Giants team claim victories in each of its past two contests. The schematic shift has kept the Giants on life support, as they are still alive in the division with a 2-6 record at the 2013 season's midway point.
But where have the high, arcing heaves to the end zone gone? So, the potentially explosive David Wilson project is obviously on hold, but did anyone really expect to see Manning's 300-yard passing days fall by the wayside?
It had to happen if the Giants were to ever win. For six games, Manning's passing attack peppered opposing offenses to nearly no avail. As the turnovers mounted, so did the losses. Something needed to change; and something did, finally, last week versus the Minnesota Vikings.
Although the first six games of the season may have led you to believe otherwise, the Giants are still a good enough team to simply play "not to lose" versus some of the NFL's lesser talents. When the Vikings came to MetLife Stadium last Monday night, New York believed it was hosting a team it could beat as long as it didn't completely screw things up.
The Giants were right.
Minnesota's Josh Freeman was not prepared to start at quarterback, and the Giants' rising defense simply had to contain running back Adrian Peterson to ensure success on that side of the ball. With the opposing offense kept in check, all New York's offense had to do was protect the ball and find the end zone or split the uprights at least a couple of times. The plan worked, as New York earned its first victory of the season—a 23-7 clunker.
Then, a week later versus the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, the Giants recycled that very same game plan. Again, the Giants offense did not commit a turnover, while the defense effectively bottled up running back LeSean McCoy, thus stifling Philadelphia's offense. This time, New York had to rely upon kicker Josh Brown's foot five times in the 15-7 victory.
The Giants special teams have done all it can to throw a wrench in this game plan—it's spoiled shutouts in each of the past two games—but the Giants have still managed to notch tallies in the win column. What gives, though? Are the Giants really a better team with Manning reduced to a game manager?
The wins and Manning's passer rating would lead one to believe so. Manning's passer rating was on the north side of 80 in both wins, and his Total QBR has been at its highest points all season in each of those games. The equations that produce those numbers tend not to favor risk-takers, which explains Manning's exceptional scores in his new, vanilla offense.
Manning's longest completion versus the Vikings was only 24 yards, and his longest completion versus the Eagles was just 27 yards. No. 10 is trading in the deep strikes for quick connections underneath, as players like running back Peyton Hillis, fullback John Conner and even wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan have dipped into the targets normally reserved for members of Manning's top-flight receiving trio—Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle.
Cruz and Nicks have still gotten a fair amount of attention, but their yards-per-catch averages have noticeably slipped with Manning taking fewer chances down the field. Randle, on the other hand, was virtually shunned in the Eagles game. After catching a touchdown pass against the Vikings, Randle was targeted only once and did not have a catch in Philadelphia. His struggles to get on the same page with Manning have been well documented.
By maintaining possession and leaning heavily on a revamped defensive unit now featuring former Panther Jon Beason as the starting middle linebacker, the Giants have beaten two terrible teams in Minnesota and Philadelphia. It seems New York has discovered a winning formula—but is it sustainable?
Let's get one thing clear: We're not talking about the 8-0 Kansas City Chiefs, who possess an attacking defense with 35 sacks, a premier running back in Jamaal Charles and one of the NFL's most efficient quarterbacks in Alex Smith. The Chiefs can afford to play this conservative style and still be favored in almost any matchup.
The Giants are almost incomparable with a pass rush that is spotty at best, a ground game featuring a different starting running back each week and a quarterback who must be itching to escape from this extremely restricting game plan. In contrast to the Chiefs, the Giants are simply surviving.
But they are winning—and winning ugly now at least sets them up to win pretty later on. Against better teams, though, New York will almost certainly need to take a few more chances than it has been lately.
Maybe something will change before the Giants host the Oakland Raiders in Week 10. They've got some extra time, thanks to a Week 9 bye, to make sure it does.