The New York Giants might be undefeated this preseason, but in this case, looks can be deceiving, especially when we’re talking about the New York Giants offense.
New York’s first-team offense has struggled to establish any sort of rhythm.
Quarterback Eli Manning has completed seven of 16 passing attempts for 43 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions.
This has led to a very pedestrian 77.5 passer rating, good enough for 49th in the list of preseason quarterback rankings.
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Meanwhile, the Giants passing offense as a whole is currently tied for 21st in the NFL (with Kansas City), a fact that has some worried about the complete overhaul of the old system by new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo.
While there is no panic yet on the part of head coach Tom Coughlin, there is some concern that the offense will continue to be a work in progress well into the month of September and possibly beyond.
“We have had in the last few years unproductive preseasons or unproductive games in the preseason, and we still have been able to come out and play well early on even offensively,” Coughlin told reporters in a conference call earlier this week.
“Now in the regular season, is that the case here? I don’t know that. We are going to see how that goes, but is there a concern? Sure it is a concern.”
With training camp practices starting to dwindle down, the team is hoping to iron out some of these problems, so that come September 8 when it takes the field against the Detroit Lions, it is running a more efficient program.
Here’s a look at three possible things the Giants can do to help jump-start the first-team offense.
Adjust the Offensive Line's Interior
For all the money the Giants front office spent in the offseason on the offensive line, the unit is still far from being a finished product.
There have been two reasons for this.
The first is injuries. Left tackle Will Beatty spent the entire spring recovering from a broken leg and was limited early on in training camp.
Although Beatty acquitted himself well in his first snaps in a live game—he earned a minus-0.8 overall grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required)—his absence from the lineup, combined with the coaches holding their collective breath that they will see the 2012 Beatty again, was a concern coming in.
The second reason for the offensive line still being unsettled is the guards.
Initially, Geoff Schwartz, who in 2013 was PFF’s ninth-best overall guard in the league, did most of his work on the right side, where his grades took off starting in Week 11 and through the AFC Wild Card Game.
When Schwartz signed with the Giants this offseason, the plan was to move him to the left guard spot, a position where his best PFF grade last year was 0.5.
This was largely due to the team’s hope that it would have Chris Snee, who has since retired, available to play at right guard.
That has not been the case, and it’s mind-boggling as to why the Giants haven’t made what should be an obvious switch.
Consider this: Thus far for the Giants, Schwartz’s problems at left guard have continued, as he’s yet to register a positive overall grade, posting his worst of the 2014 preseason (minus-2.4) last week against the Colts.
That leads us to the solution for this problem: Move Schwartz back to right guard, where he apparently has a greater comfort level.
Insert either James Brewer, who last year had some of his best showings at left guard, or rookie Weston Richburg, who has been learning both guard spots, in Schwartz’s spot.
Richburg is probably the better option at this point. After a rough start, his grades have steadily improved to where he’s been getting more reps in practice with the first team.
“That was my goal: to come in and compete,” Richburg told reporters today. “If you go to a team and don’t want to compete for a starting role, I think you’re cheating yourself.
“I want to be here, I want to be a player. I don’t want to be a guy that’s not playing. I want to contribute, be reliable and be a guy that people can count on.”
Brandon Mosley is currently trying to secure the starting right guard job but has struggled his way toward a minus-2.1 grade.
Let Mosley become the first man off the bench if there’s an injury at guard or tackle, as he was drafted in the fourth round of 2012 as a tackle before moving inside to guard.
Take More Shots Down the Field
Sometimes to create confidence and to get someone into a rhythm, it’s not a bad idea to go back to the basics and let that person do what they do best, even if it’s not part of the new philosophy.
That something in this case is taking more shots down the field, a strength of Manning’s. Per PFF, Manning has attempted just five of his 16 pass attempts this preseason for 10 or more yards—all incompletions.
Of those five attempts, only one has been for 20 or more yards.
While Manning is going to have to continue to work on the shorter passing game that comes with the West Coast offense, and while the struggles of the offensive line might factor into the equation, there is another element the Giants should have on their side if they do decide to try more deep passes down the field.
That would be the points of emphasis concerning a defender’s coverage of the receivers that have resulted in an influx of yellow flags this preseason.
While no one probably wants to see it rain yellow flags, the fact remains that because the officials are calling every little thing these days, there is an influx.
Per the data pulled from each of New York's preseason game books (available on NFL.com), the Giants defense alone has been nailed for eight defensive holdings, four defensive pass interferences and three each for illegal use of hands and illegal contact.
Their opponents, meanwhile, have struggled with penalties as well.
Thirteen of the 20 penalties called against their three foes thus far have fallen under defensive holding, illegal use of hands, illegal contact or defensive pass interference.
The point here is if the NFL is going to favor the deep-passing game buy handcuffing defenders and what they can do, then why not see if Manning and the Giants can take advantage more often just to build some momentum and rhythm?
During the preseason, teams seem to go out of their way not to tip their hand to the rest of the league regarding what they plan to run or to address certain teams.
Rightfully so, as the point of the preseason is to evaluate players in order to determine the makeup of the 53-man roster.
However, not all teams adhere to this practice, as some do engage in a little game-planning, especially when installing new schemes in their respective systems.
Those coaching staffs use the preseason to test things out against opponents in an effort to gain a feel for what might work and what will not.
Thus far, the Giants haven’t done much, if any, game-planning in the preseason. Once again, this is because they don’t want to tip their hand.
However, that is about to change for their next preseason game against the Jets, according to Manning.
“This week, we’ll game-plan a little bit more,” he told reporters on Monday. “The other weeks you kind of have one day where you’re looking at the opposing defense and you’re really just trying to run your base plays.”
Manning obviously wouldn’t say how detailed the game-planning would be, but he was optimistic that it might help the offense.
“Hopefully it will help,” he said. “We’ve still got to perform better. No matter how well you game-plan, it’s still the execution on the field that’s the most important thing.”
If game-planning results in the dominoes falling into place and the offense achieving some continuity in what should be the final dress rehearsal before the start of the regular season, then it will have been worth it for McAdoo to offer a public peek into his bag of tricks for 2014.
Patricia Traina is the senior editor for Inside Football. All quotes and information obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. All stats and player grades are from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter, @Patricia_Traina.