7 Keys to Victory in New York Giants' Week 3 Matchup
It's gut-check time for the New York Giants and head coach Ben McAdoo.
The Giants, losers of their first two regular-season games, are looking to avoid a 0-3 start to the regular season for the first time since 2013 when they opened the campaign with six straight losses.
However, things won't get any easier for McAdoo and company, who must try to reverse their misfortunes against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field.
"The Linc" hasn't exactly been welcoming to Big Blue. The Giants have dropped their last three regular-season games there by a combined score of 78-26. Two of those three losses have been of the blowout variety; a 27-0 shutout in 2014, when McAdoo was in his first season with the team as offensive coordinator, and then a 27-7 thrashing the following year.
With the Giants' offense struggling for breath—it currently ranks 28th in the league while the Eagles' is fifth—McAdoo and his team are at a crossroads. If they don't turn things around, the 2017 season could be over before it had a chance to get started.
Here is a look at some of the things the Giants will need to accomplish if they hope to avoid a complete meltdown by their fanbase Sunday night.
Start RB Orleans Darkwa
When it has come to the Giants' running game—that is when they've tried to run the ball—Orleans Darkwa has been their most consistent running back.
Yet, for whatever the reason, the coaching staff continues to limit his carries to just a handful—six to be exact—through two games, while starter Paul Perkins has carried the rock 14 times.
Here's the difference, though: Darkwa has made the most of his opportunities, running for 31 yards (a team-best 5.2 yards per carry), while Perkins has rushed for 26 cards in over twice as many carries (a team-low average of 1.9 yards per carry behind the same offensive line).
"Orleans had a couple cleaner looks in the ballgame [against Detroit]," McAdoo said when asked about Darkwa, adding, "but again, we have a way to go in running the football."
How about giving the ball to the guy who has shown he's been able to make something out of nothing behind a spotty run-blocking offensive line and see where that goes, coach?
"We made a change in the normal down and distance flow of the game [Monday]. We evened out the reps. We have confidence in Paul, we have confidence in Orleans," McAdoo said.
In other words, stay tuned, though the numbers don't lie in this case. Swapping Darkwa for Perkins should be one of the first fixes McAdoo tries in jump-starting this lethargic offense.
Hand over the Play-Calling Duties to Mike Sullivan
The Giants' offense was supposed to be a juggernaut under McAdoo, and the arrow was pointing in the right direction for the first two years of his tenure.
Back then, though, McAdoo was the offensive coordinator and not the head coach. And since taking the top job, the arrow is now pointing in the opposite direction which doesn't bode well for the team's playoff aspirations.
Since McAdoo appointed himself the play-caller, the offense has failed to score 20 or more points in eight straight games. Seven of those games were with Odell Beckham Jr. in the lineup, so not even the dynamic receiver's presence has helped.
You can point to the personnel issues, namely the offensive line, but the play-calling by McAdoo has left much to be desired.
If the head coach is serious about turning around the team's fortunes, he needs to hand the play-calling over to offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan.
Sullivan, for those not aware, called the plays in the Giants' preseason finale against the Patriots. While it does need to be acknowledged that the game featured backups versus backups, there was no denying the play selection was more balanced and creative than it had been previously and with the points to show for it.
Take Advantage of the Banged-Up Eagles Secondary
Assuming the Giants can block for quarterback Eli Manning, this would be a great week for the passing game to take center stage.
Yes, receiver Beckham is expected to be on the field at the time of writing after he came out of his limited action Monday night no worse for wear.
More importantly, the Eagles' defensive secondary is banged up to the point where, if Manning has the time to set up and throw, the Giants could end up moving the chains a lot better than they have over the first two weeks.
Already, the Eagles will be without starting cornerback Ronald Darby (ankle). They could also be missing starting safety Rodney McLeod and cornerback Jaylen Watkins, both of whom are nursing hamstring strains.
And Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Corey Graham wasn't at Wednesday's practice, leaving the Eagles with just six healthy defensive backs.
Again, if the Giants offensive line can give Manning time to throw, we could see their passing game the way it was meant to be.
Give the OL More Help
The Giants coaches must really have confidence in left tackle Ereck Flowers because, as NJ Advance Media's Dan Duggan pointed out, they mostly left him one-on-one Monday night against Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah.
Not surprisingly, Ansah recorded all three of his sacks Monday night against Flowers in one-on-one matchups, with Flowers' technique looking as sloppy as it has the last two seasons.
That cannot continue unless the goal is to get Manning killed out there. While it's unlikely the Giants will bench Flowers—McAdoo has already said in his Tuesday conference call with reporters he's not giving up on the struggling left tackle just yet—they must consider giving him help out there, be it from a running back or a tight end offering a chip before going out into a route.
Here's the scary thing: The Giants might not be able to give Flowers as much help as they might like to, not with Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham lining up on the other side of the formation (against the Giants right guard and right tackle).
There seems to be no easy solution here. If the Giants don't get the Eagles blocked up, it could be another long day for Manning and the offense.
Stifle TE Zach Ertz
If you thought the Giants had trouble Monday night against Lions tight end Eric Ebron (a team-high five receptions for 42 yards and a touchdown), you ain't seen nothing yet.
This week, the Giants will go up against Zach Ertz, who leads all tight ends with 190 receiving yards and who is tied for most receptions at his position with Travis Kelce of the Chiefs.
Ertz is quarterback Carson Wentz's go-to guy when he needs a first down—not surprisingly, Ertz, who is looking for his first touchdown of 2017, leads the NFL tight ends with 11 first downs gained through two games.
Not for nothing, but the Giants have been missing linebacker Keenan Robinson, who last year did a good job in coverage with limiting the damage done by opposing tight ends.
As of this writing, Robinson is still in the concussion protocol, where he's been for over a month now, and there is no indication he's anywhere close to being cleared to resume all contact activities.
With starting inside linebacker B.J. Goodson still nursing a shin injury, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo better have a trick up his sleeve to make sure an opposing tight end doesn't score against his defense for the third game in a row.
Defeat the Eagles' Offensive Line
If it’s any consolation, Giants fans, the Eagles are having problems with their offensive line was well.
In fact, it looks like head coach Doug Pederson is planning to replace struggling left guard Isaac Seumalo with Chance Warmack in Sunday’s game, according to Martin Frank of the News Journal.
Changes aside, Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ Advance Media broke down the performances of each member of the Eagles' offensive line last week and it wasn't a pretty picture: The group allowed 22 quarterback pressures and five sacks.
The Giants' defensive line, meanwhile, recorded three sacks last week against a much better Lions offensive line to go along with four quarterback hits.
If the Giants' defensive front can wreak havoc against an Eagles' offensive line that appears to be in as much disarray as their own, they might just give their team a fighting chance in this one.
Win the Starting Field Position Battle
Lost in the panic about the offense's struggle is the fact the Giants have lost the battle of the starting field position in their first two games.
On kickoffs, the Giants have started their drives on their 21-yard line (Week 1) and 25-yard line (Week 2). Overall, their average starting field position in the first two games has been their 16-yard line (Week 1) and their 24-yard line (Week 2).
Such poor starting field position isn't going to help a struggling offense that needs every advantage it can get against a special teams unit that is averaging 10.0 yards on punt returns and 21.0 yards on kickoff returns.
Giants return specialist Dwayne Harris, who—as part of a pay cut accepted this year—has an incentive in his contract if he finishes the season having averaged 10.0 yard per punt return, is averaging 3.3 yards per return on punts and 21.0 yards on kickoff returns.
Again, with the Giants offense struggling, they will need every advantage they can get, beginning with the starting field position.
Patricia Traina covers the New York Giants for Inside Football, the Journal Inquirer and Sports Xchange. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced.