Eli Manning, Porous O-Line Are Sinking the New York Giants' Talented Offense

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistSeptember 17, 2018

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 16:  Jaylon Smith #54 of the Dallas Cowboys hits Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants in the third quarter at AT&T Stadium on September 16, 2018 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

With Odell Beckham Jr., Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram at wide receiver, running back and tight end, respectively, the New York Giants have one of the most talented offensive skill-position groups in the NFL

But that hardly matters, because the Giants proved again Sunday night that they can't effectively complete passes to and/or block for those standout players with any consistency. 

For the second consecutive week, the Giants couldn't find the end zone until they were trailing by a double-digit margin in the fourth quarter. They've scored only 28 points in two games, and 10 of those came in what was essentially garbage time in a sleepy 20-13 Sunday night loss to the Dallas Cowboys. 

Don't be fooled by quarterback Eli Manning's borderline-impressive final numbers. Manning completed 33 of 44 passes against Dallas, but a lot of that came when the game was well in hand and even more of it came on short flips to Barkley, who caught 14 passes for 80 yards out of the backfield. 

Manning completed just two of his eight attempts beyond 15 yards. Despite a completion rate of 69.1 percent on the season, he's averaging just 6.2 yards per attempt. And against the Cowboys, 39 percent of his 279 passing yards came with the Giants trailing by multiple scores in the final six minutes of regulation. 

Of course, the Giants' offensive struggles aren't all on Manning. He was under near-constant pressure against the Jaguars, and he was sacked six times Sunday evening in Dallas. 

There was a lot of hope for their new-look line after they made free-agent left tackle Nate Solder the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history and used a second-round pick on high-potential UTEP product Will Hernandez. That allowed them to move 2015 top-10 pick Ereck Flowers to the right side, where he'd have a chance to shed the bust label in a less challenging spot. 

Nope. In Dallas, Flowers and right guard Patrick Omameh both resembled turnstiles for the second straight Sunday, Solder and Hernandez were both responsible for sacks on the left side, and center John Greco couldn't offer much help in place of the injured Jon Halapio. 

There was a steady stream of blown protections and missed switch-offs as the Giants were consistently outschemed and overwhelmed in the trenches, leaving Manning with limited opportunities to attack. Not ideal when you're met with an early deficit on the road. 

"If it were a fight," NBC's Cris Collinsworth remarked during the second half, "they'd stop it."

The Giants are 0-2. All they had to do was score 21 points in each of their first two games and they'd be 2-0. Both the Jaguars and Cowboys left them plenty of opportunities, but the pass protection simply hasn't been good enough to enable Manning to get the most out of Beckham, Barkley and Engram, and it's clear at this point that the 37-year-old can't do it himself. 

There's something to be said for cohesiveness in this sport, particularly with offensive lines. Solder, Hernandez and Omameh are all new, while Flowers and Halapio are at new positions. Now Halapio is out, and these early struggles could lead to more changes. 

Remember, Beckham missed most of the 2017 season and Barkley is a rookie. New coaching staff, new offense, new players. 

In other words, things could pick up for this offense if/when everyone becomes more comfortable.

But there isn't much time for that. They're alone in last place in the NFC East, and their conference is stacked compared to its younger brother. They travel to Houston to face a desperate and talented Texans team in Week 3, and that's followed by meetings with the New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons, all of whom made the playoffs in 2017. 

The Giants could have gone in a number of directions this offseason, but new general manager Dave Gettleman decided to try to win now.

That's why they didn't cut bait on one of the most expensive defenses in the league. It's why they opted to keep their two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback and use that No. 2 overall pick on Barkley, rather than a long-term project under center. And it's why they made Solder and Beckham the highest-paid players in the history of football at their respective positions.

They want—need!—Barkley to do what Ezekiel Elliott did as a rookie in 2016, or what Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara did as rooks in 2017, but those young backs benefited from stronger offensive lines and hotter quarterbacks. 

Barkley alone can't give the Giants offense consistent balance, and that in turn impacts Beckham's or Engram's ability to make plays. 

It's vicious, but that's this game. Having talent is one thing; utilizing it is another.

So long as their stars remain healthy, the Giants will eventually win some games. But if that new staff can't get more out of the line, and if Manning and those linemen can't get more out of themselves, it won't matter how gifted they are elsewhere. 

      

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.

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