Everything was supposed to be different this year for the New York Giants, who were out of it before Halloween after an 0-6 start to an abysmal 2013 season.
A new offensive coordinator, an "upgraded" offensive line and shiny new weapons in the offensive backfield (Andre Williams, Rashad Jennings) and the receiving corps (first-round pick Odell Beckham) suggested a fresh start.
But based on what quarterback Eli Manning and the first-team offense did during its five preseason games, concluding with another pathetic performance Thursday against the New England Patriots, it's now safe to wonder if Big Blue could be set up for another winless September.
That first unit entered Thursday's preseason finale with only 21 points on 17 possessions in four games. Thirteen of those series ended in punts—seven after only three plays.
Manning, Jennings, Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle and the rest of the healthy offensive starters were only playing Thursday's game because they'd failed so miserably four weeks in a row.
This was their chance to salvage something.
Instead, against New England's backups, that top unit managed only a single first down on two first-quarter series, both of which ended in punts. Manning was just 1-of-4, marking the third time in five preseason affairs that he posted either one or zero completions.
Manning had six full seconds and no pressure here, and this was the result:
On third down, this should have been easy regardless of the scheme or system:
Next throw: What kind of footwork is this?
Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger assessed the offense's showing:
In all, Manning's performance was completely uninspiring. At this point, he shouldn't be making throws off his back foot, and simple timing routes with Randle should be nailed down. Also, if Manning has six seconds in the pocket, like he did on the first incompletion to Randle, he should be able to find an open receiver. If not, his pass catchers should be able to shake loose against backup defensive backs.
Are we putting too much into the preseason at this point? Probably. But shouldn't these vanilla plays be routine at this point?
And so they're forced to walk away from the preseason knowing that the Giants' franchise quarterback could only lead a single touchdown drive on 19 attempts. The other two were orchestrated entirely by the running game.
The sample size isn't huge, but it's large enough for us to draw some ominous conclusions about how prepared these guys are to run a completely new offense.
Now, it should be noted that Manning and the Giants have never stood out in the preseason.
The reality is, as bad as the offensive line has been in pass protection, it really can't be worse than it was last year. The same applies to the receiving corps, and the running game does look better. Manning's numbers, though, were on par with or perhaps worse than his 2013 preseason figures:
Should this team be satisfied with the fact that it's merely not worse off than it was a year ago? Need we remind you of how September treated the Giants in 2013?
Pro Football Reference
It was almost impossible to get out of a hole like that. This offense looks even worse at the moment, though, and we're only nine days away from the real thing.
"We didn't get much going tonight, but we’re getting ready for Detroit, that first game," Manning said. "We got the starters out healthy, so that’s always the most important thing. We have to get ready for Detroit on Monday night. It should be fun."
He's right; it was important to avoid injuries, but are they really ready for Detroit?
According to the New York Post's Steve Serby, New York Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson claims Manning's already "watching the rush." Why? Probably because he doesn't trust his torn-apart offensive line.
Now he and that line will have to deal with a Lions defensive front featuring first-round picks Ziggy Ansah, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.
That'll be in prime time on the road. No biggie.
Then, on short rest, the Giants get to host an Arizona Cardinals "D" that had 47 sacks, ranking sixth overall last season. That's followed by a meeting with the Houston Texans, who will be ready to pounce with two-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and his new sidekick, No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney.
They conclude September with the division-rival Washington Redskins on the road. Washington's defense isn't scary on paper, but it's having one hell of a summer. That quartet of Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, Jason Hatcher and Barry Cofield in the front seven is bound to do some damage.
The ingredients are there for another early-season implosion in East Rutherford.
With the rest of the division in a much better rhythm, the Giants might once again find themselves in an impossible spot before first frost.