New York Giants: Why is the Offense Struggling?

After a pitiful offensive showing to blow a six-game winning streak against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, can the New York Giants overcome their offensive struggles and become a legitimate threat?


Full disclosure, this is going to be a long article. If you aren’t prepared, turn back now, no good lies beyond this point. Well, there is some good, little bits. Honestly, after the pitiful offensive showings the Giants have produced over the last few weeks, I thought it would be helpful to take a realistic and critical look at New York’s offensive unit to try to figure out exactly what they are. Are they average? Are they bad? Or are they really bad? Now, I’m not going to be such a downer for the entirety of this piece, but I am going to dive into the statistics and give an honest appraisal, and if that means some harsh truths, then so be it.

It’s hard to classify the Giants offense this year as anything other than inconsistent. This is a team that relies almost solely on the passing game in order to put points on the board; running a three-wide personnel grouping over 90% of the time to keep ‘the best players on the field’, as Coach McAdoo has continually reiterated. But the points haven’t come in bunches, at times if at all. Rather, drive after drive is punctuated by a punt or field goal, relief only coming occasionally by an explosive play from the undoubtedly talented receiving corps. The run game is barely functioning, despite some success in recent weeks with a few 100+ yard games against weak defenses. The offensive line has been dreadful in run blocking and barely passable in pass protection, and is the most penalised unit on the team.

But the Giants have found ways to win, even ending a 10-game win streak by the Dallas Cowboys, and they remain second in the NFC East with the wildcard still firmly in hand. So why is this offense continuing to struggle? And is there any hope for them to be able to turn it around in December?

Eli is having a standard year really. He has averaged just over 17 INTs a season over the course of his career and is on track for about 15 this year, which places him 21st in the league per attempt. Not great, but a typical year for Eli. He is also averaging around 11 yards per pass, which has been par for the course in McAdoo’s scheme over the last three seasons. In terms of DVOA, Football Outsiders puts Eli 14th in the league. Again, fairly standard play from Manning. He does have one of the best completion percentages of his career, sitting slightly above 63%, but the west coast offense has clearly assisted Eli by focusing on short yardage and high completion throws.

In all likelihood, Eli’s performance hasn’t been the biggest issue for this offense. The regular season has not often been his forte, and he does seem like he may be seeing ghosts in the backfield due to poor pass protection by, well, everyone. I also want to mention that his accuracy seems to be off, particularly on the deep ball. But that’s just from the eye test, I don’t have stats to back that up. He may not consistently be a top five or even top ten quarterback year after year, but I believe he still has all the ability to be the iron man, franchise quarterback the Giants have relied on for 12 years. There is no doubt he is going to have to execute better in these final four weeks, though.

There has been a lot made this year about the offensive line, and Giants fans have been fairly vocal about the unit’s incompetence. I happen to believe that some of the criticism has been unfounded, even though there are a few glaring issues. They may not be the top unit in the league, but they have been serviceable, and despite being hampered by injuries have seemed to improve over the course of the season. Pass protection has been average. In fact, Eli has one of the lowest sack rates in the league, second only to Derek Carr.

But what the stats don’t tell us is how much of that is due to Eli’s ability to avoid the rush and get the pass out quickly. It’s also important to note that McAdoo’s offensive scheme has been able to hide certain deficiencies on the offensive line. To the eye test, they aren’t doing great protecting Eli, but the stats would seem to suggest what I seem to think, that they are indeed average.

Run blocking, on the other hand, has been a very big problem. Football Outsiders rank the Giants’ line as the 27th in the league on rushing downs. Again, they have been improving slightly, but without an effective rushing attack to run the clock or set up play-action, the team is suffering from a lack of options in the playbook.

The interior has been playing much better than the tackles, but tackle Ereck Flowers and guard Bobby Hart are both young and still learning the position. Flowers is taking the brunt of the line’s criticism, and I can’t really disagree. Almost 20% of the team’s penalties are on him alone. He is having fits trying to contain edge rushers, but will still have games where he shows flashes, like eliminating Terrell Suggs against the Ravens. I’m not ready to call Flowers a bust before his 2nd year has even ended, and Hart has been great considering he was a seventh-round flier, but the line is arguably the biggest problem with the Giants right now. If this unit can’t step up in the final four weeks, I can’t see New York end up with a playoff appearance.

It seems like the biggest problem this season, as I alluded to in the previous section, is the rushing attack. It’s clearly the glaring issue with the offensive line, and it is affecting Eli’s ability to run the play-action effectively, one of the best parts of his game. New York is second last in rushing yards both per attempt and per game. Again, some of the blame lies with the offensive line, and I believe the play calling, which I will get to later on. But the Giants have lacked a dominant running back since 2011 when both Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs graced the field.

Rashad Jennings has been average, which I feel like I’m constantly saying about this team. Football Outsiders ranks him at 22nd in the league in terms of effectiveness, but his 21 broken tackles last season placed him third last in the league. His pass blocking has been stellar, but a pure pass blocking running back isn’t really a ‘running’ back, which the Giants seem to desperately need. Paul Perkins looks like a rookie with a lot of upside and has a particular advantage over Jennings being that he is elusive on screens and when running off-tackle. But he is a rookie, and there is always going to be a learning curve. His carries have increased over the course of the season, but wait until next year for a bigger impact from the UCLA alum.

There are some positives. New York has the 11th fewest runs for zero or negative yardage, getting stuffed on 18% of plays, and also rank 11th in rushing plays that gain a first on third and fourth down, so they have been effective in the clutch. So to all those fans who keep complaining about draw and trap plays on third down, you’re wrong – it tends to work.

But this team has often abandoned the run game regardless of supposed effectiveness. The argument would be that you can often use the passing game to set up the run, even though it seems counter-intuitive. But even against a two-deep safety look with six in the box, the Giants can’t seem to get anything going on the ground. So in the end, defenses won’t respect the run game and will blanket the receivers with defensive backs. As a result, play-action won’t work, which effectively neuters the offense. With Shane Vereen returning from injury this coming Sunday, there is some hope that the rushing game will improve, but don’t expect a big turnaround in such a short period of time.

So maybe it is all down to the playcalling, but this one is a little harder to quantify, as it’s generally difficult to separate playcalling from execution. Also, I’m not a head coach, and despite thinking I’m pretty good at Madden, I have no idea how a professional offense really functions. But I’m going to give it a go. A quick note, Eli Manning has the ability to audible as he sees fit, and it is a huge part of the no-huddle offense the Giants run, so as I discuss playcalling, I place the decision making on Eli, Coach McAdoo, and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan equally.

25% of New York’s drives end with points on the board. For reference, the only teams ranked lower are the Bears, the Browns, and the Rams. How’s that for good company? The Giants have the second lowest time of possession per drive, and rank in the bottom third for net yardage and number of plays. Again, how much of this is related to play calling and how much is due to execution is debatable.

Fans have continually voiced their dissatisfaction over predictable playcalling, pointing at the fact that over 90% of the Giants plays on offense are run out of the 11 personnel grouping, with three wide receivers, a running back and a tight end. I am of the opinion that this isn’t as much of a concern as it has been made out to be. New York has been hamstrung by poor quality tight ends, and both potential starters at fullback in Will Johnson and Nikita Whitlock were placed on injured reserve before the season began. With no fullback and mediocre tight ends, there are only so many formations you can use effectively.

The play calling seems to be less a problem than execution it seems, but there is one statistic that I think stands out. 67% of the Giants run plays have been up the middle; between the center and the guards. However, stats from Football Outsiders show that the Giants rank in the top 10 in the league in runs off-tackle. This is obviously too small a sample size to draw an accurate conclusion, seeing as New York barely runs in the first place, but it may suggest that sweeps and toss plays could be a good idea moving forward, particularly when using a jumbo package and running either Perkins or Vereen out of the backfield.

There have been claims that Ben McAdoo may be struggling with handling the duties of both play calling and that of a head coach, and that Mike Sullivan should potentially take over play calling duties. I don’t want to speculate too much on that because there is really too much we don’t know about the situation to suggest this would help. Again, I don’t believe play calling is as big a problem as it may seem, but rather the execution needs to improve in order to find more success.

I have to admit that I was one of many who fell into the hype over this receiving corps during the preseason. The return of Victor Cruz and the praise Sterling Shepard received from Odell Beckham Jr. was more than enough to foster some excitement. While they haven’t quite delivered as expected, it isn’t through lack of trying or talent level.

All three starting receivers have caught over 60% of their targets this year, a decent enough completion rate. Beckham, in particular, is having another great year with 75 receptions for 1015 yards, good for 4th and 5th in the league respectively. Eli has had the opportunity to spread the ball around more so this year than in previous seasons, but it is still definitely skewed towards Odell, who receives 50% of the group’s targets, with Shepard getting 30% and Cruz with the remaining 20%. Beckham’s 125 targets puts him as the third highest targeted receiver in the league, behind only Antonio Brown and Mike Evans. We all know OBJ is one of the best receivers in the league, and he is continuing to prove it.

Cruz and Shepard, on the other hand, have been rather quiet. That isn’t to say that they aren’t playing well, as both receivers have made some impressive plays throughout the season, and Cruz has the 7th highest yard average in the league, with 17.1 yards per catch. It wasn’t hard to conclude though that with Beckham getting most of the attention from opposing defenses, both Cruz and Shepard would be able to take advantage of favorable match-ups all year. That hasn’t exactly happened, but it is likely due to other inefficiencies on the offense rather than lack of ability and execution on the part of the receiving corps. I don’t think this unit is an issue, and rookie UDFA Roger Lewis has also shown that there is great depth at the position. If the other aspects of this offense can get going, I truly believe the receivers can feast.

So to recap the massive wall of text, the Giants aren’t playing well on offense. Eli is playing a little below average, partly because of inconsistent at best pass protection and partly due to a slight regression in accuracy; all in all, though, a typical year for the veteran. The offensive line is serviceable but is having immense difficulty with run blocking. And with no fullback on the roster, questionable blocking by the tight ends, and average performances from the running backs, they aren’t getting any help. The receiving corps is playing well but has been shut down due to the rest of the offense’s issues. Opposing teams are able to drop safeties deep or bring in extra defensive backs due to the fact that the Giants aren’t able to run the ball, making the receivers’ jobs far more difficult than they need to be.

This team has had to rely on its defense playing for far too long and to continually shut down opposing teams in order to win, as the points simply aren’t coming and the drives are unsuccessful more often than not. The playoffs are still a very real possibility, but to actually make a run in the postseason this offense is going to have to improve quickly and drastically. It’s a hell of a lot to ask, and I wouldn’t advise holding your breath.

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