Meet the new offense. Same as the old offense?
The New York Giants faced off against the Buffalo Bills in the year's first preseason game—the Hall of Fame Game—winning the game 17-13. The Giants' starting quarterback, Eli Manning, finished his short time under center with a respectable six completions on seven attempts, but the 43 yards mean his yards per attempt was only hovering just around six.
This comes after an offseason of utter joy, jubilation and excitement thanks to a new offensive system brought in by new coordinator Ben McAdoo. The former Green Bay Packers position coach will bring a new-look West Coast scheme to the Giants' stagnated attack, and fans had visions of Aaron Rodgers dancing in their heads as McAdoo promised to "fix" what has been ailing Manning.
Look, Giants fans, I've been a vocal critic of the offensive snoozefest that was the hallmark of Kevin Gilbride and Tom Coughlin's time together, so any improvement is welcomed. That said, the playbook may not matter if the people executing it don't do so better than they have in recent years.
Coaches only do so much. Eventually, the buck has to stop with the players on the field.
The standard preseason disclaimer applies here and even more so in the Hall of Fame Game. Honestly, I'm not extrapolating any doom or gloom for the Giants out of a few series of the most meaningless football on the planet.
Rather, I'm simply saying that we shouldn't start talking about a new-look Giants offense until it, you know, looks different.
Eli Manning Needs to Hit His Stride Sooner Rather Than Later
Manning is 33 years old and has two Super Bowl rings (along with the MVP trophies from those two games) sitting on his resume, so the idea that he's somehow incapable of leading a high-octane offense at this point of his career is a little foolish.
That said, the boo birds who come out of the woodwork surrounding Manning aren't exactly baseless in their typical insults. Though he's taken his team to the mountaintop numerous times, he's also been—at times—an albatross that has kept it from those same great heights.
We know Manning can, but we're waiting for him to find the consistent greatness that has been a hallmark of his brother's career. In many ways, that's the simplistic way of breaking down the silly, "elite QB" conversation about Manning that will dominate talk radio between now and the turn of the next millennium.
Here's a look at Manning's numbers last season:
|Eli Manning in 2013|
|Passer Rating||Completion %||Yards/Attempt||TD|
|69.4 (35)||57.5 (32)||6.93 (21)||18 (21)|
|ESPN (Rank in Parentheses)|
Now, numbers like this need context, and the Giants' personnel around Manning certainly didn't do a whole lot to pick him up. That said, Manning is supposed to be the rock, and it's disconcerting that he was only 30th overall in Pro Football Focus' ratings (subscription required) and 22nd while under pressure. He also threw a league-high 27 interceptions.
Manning wasn't the only problem in 2013, but he certainly wasn't the solution.
So, McAdoo wants to fix Manning; that alone is an admission that something has been broken—an admission anyone with two working eyes probably has already made. We can acknowledge how fantastic Manning had been for the Giants some time ago while also realizing that isn't who he was as the Giants floundered.
Then again, it's always been far more about how Manning finishes than how he starts, but this team doesn't have the defense that carried him in numerous regular seasons in the past. No, it seems unlikely that Manning can start behind the eightball and pick it up just in time for the playoffs. Frankly, if he doesn't hit the ground running, there almost certainly won't be playoffs.
Again, this isn't a prediction off of one preseason game, just a warning against the hype that so seemed to permeate the offseason discussion around Manning, who may be just as ineffective in this offense as he was last season.
Maybe you're here for answers, though, rather than question marks.
If the Giants are going to get back to the promised land this season, Manning needs to do more than just dink and dunk his way down the field. In a very rudimentary way of understanding the West Coast offense, that may seem like the goal, but the real goal is a sense of rhythm.
That rhythm is something Manning isn't accustomed to hitting with a lot of frequency.
With that rhythm in place, it's not about dinking and dunking as much as it's about finding guys on intermediate routes and hitting them in stride. If that happens, it's not just a four-yard pass, it's a four-yard pass in the air that turns into a 10-yard completion.
On paper, the offense works.
If the offense looks disjointed with numerous sputters and stops, it's not the offense's fault as if the X's and O's printed on the paper are somehow faulty. No, if the offense is ineffective, it will be either the lack of translation from the paper to the players (a coaching problem) or simply an indictment of the person supposedly running it—Manning.
Offensive Line Needs to Support the Running Game
One of my favorite lines about the Giants' issues in recent seasons is that Coughlin seemed to be coaching a team that showed little resemblance to the actual team on the field. The Giants—in terms of both play-calling and game management—acted like a power-running, defensive powerhouse, but that wasn't what the personnel actually looked like.
Turn the page to 2014 and Coughlin may be back in his comfort zone.
While McAdoo's move to New York has largely been discussed in terms of what it means for Manning, it's his likely reliance on more zone and stretch-running plays that may help this team in a lot of ways. His predecessors on the Giants (including Coughlin) trended toward man/power blocking, at times with an almost fanatic reliance on it while talking out of the side of their mouths about supposedly running more zone-blocking looks.
McAdoo's running style will not only benefit the running backs on the Giants roster, but also the linemen.
If for no other reason than to allow Coughlin the type of team that he will pretend he has anyway, the Giants need to win with the run on early downs. That, in turn, will allow Manning to face less pressure—an area we've already mentioned has beguiled him as of late. This also opens up play action, which is where the West Coast offense was originally designed to really make hay.
Yet, as atrocious as the Giants offensive line was while pass-blocking last season (really, to steal a turn of phrase from colleague Mike Freeman, they were putrid), the middle-of-the-road run-blocking is just as troublesome in accounting for what this team was constructed to be.
Thankfully, the offensive line in 2014 shouldn't look anything like it did last season. That should be a good thing.
At center, Weston Richburg was one of my favorite line prospects and he'll battle J.D. Walton for the job this season. Geoff Schwartz and John Jerry were both brought in—the former being more polished and the latter having more physical girth to support that rushing attack. Justin Pugh (a bright spot as a rookie last year on an otherwise terrible line) returns with a full offseason to improve.
To put it negatively: It will be almost impossible for the line to be as bad as it was last season. In less cynical terms, there's reason to expect marked improvement from this new-look unit in a way that should immediately aid the run, which then perfectly supplements the passing game.
If this unit doesn't mesh sooner rather than later, though, it's just as big of a hurdle for the new, "exciting" offense. There's no way to draw up better blocking on paper, that's just not how football works. There's no scheme that allows a team to lose as many battles up front as the Giants lost last season.
A positive out of the Hall of Fame Game was the rushing attack, as the line acquitted itself well and the new crop of bigger backs (Coughlin's wheelhouse) did their part.
Now, much of their success was against a Buffalo Bills defense that is still shuffling the proverbial deck—especially in a linebacking corps without Kiko Alonso—and against the second-stringers to boot, but the positives for that phase of the game far outweighed the negatives.
In the NFL, it's easy to be optimistic during the offseason and never more than when training camp rolls around. For the Giants, though, the optimism of an offseason of change needs to be tempered with the reality of managed expectations.
This offense is, first and foremost, about how well Manning and the offensive line perform. If those units don't step it up from last season, it will be another long year for Big Blue and their fans.