One of the objectives over the bye week for the Giants was to figure out how to jumpstart their mysteriously underperforming offense. To date, they have averaged just 19 points per game with a unit that has a future Hall of Famer at QB, a once-in-a-generation receiver and high draft picks scattered throughout the offensive depth chart.
First year offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, a longtime Tom Coughlin assistant held over by new head coach Ben McAdoo, had some insight into what needs to happen.
"From a scheme standpoint, I think it's no mystery; we would like to run the ball better, we need to run the ball better," Sullivan told reporters Thursday. "There's situations in terms of the red zone area of the field where we've had opportunities and we've got to a better job getting touchdowns, getting points. And then of course the turnovers."
The Giants are -7 this season in turnover ratio and some of those turnovers have come at the most inopportune times. Sullivan said the team is sorting through every possible way to ignite the offense.
"So taking a look at those issues, how can we try to solve them? We really took a hard look at scheme, at personnel, personnel groupings; are there ways of maybe showing some different looks rather than just the traditional what we call our zebra personnel, with the one back, one tight end and three receivers. In terms of just some of the players, maybe some guys getting more opportunities, some guys getting less opportunities. So, really just a kind of a thorough check under the hood to see how we can solve some of those problems."
The running game, that ranks worst in the league, is not the only culprit. The team is operating without a fullback, a bonafide blocking tight end and has not gotten acceptable play from the offensive line. As a result, QB Eli Manning has lost faith in his offensive line and is getting rid of the ball sooner than he'd like to. That has equated to shorter passes, more incompletions and more frequent three-and-outs.
The play calling has been inconsistent as well. Both Sullivan and McAdoo are to blame for that. They have three world-class wide receivers and are not dialing up enough passing plays down the field.
This week, they will face the NFL's eighth-ranked defense in the Philadelphia Eagles, who have been surprisingly efficient over their first seven games. The Giants, who have had difficulty scoring points, will find no safe harbor here. The Eagles are giving up just 16.7 points per game and have allowed only 21 scores on 79 total opponent drives in 2016, ranking fourth in opponent scoring efficiency (26.6%).
The Giants will try to establish the run, an area in which the Eagles' defense may be vulnerable. They rank 20th in the NFL, yielding 114.7 yards per game. The Giants haven't been able to get their run game going against lesser competition, so this will be a challenge, especially in the red zone.
Philadelphia leads the NFL in opponent red zone scoring efficiency (68.0%), allowing only 17 scores on 25 opponent red zone drives. They rank first in the NFL in opponent yards per play inside the red zone (1.83) in 2016, allowing just 115 yards on 63 opponent red zone plays.
If the Giants plan on running the ball in the red zone, they will be met with resistance. Philadelphia owns the NFL's lowest opponent red zone rushing average (1.0) this season, allowing just 26 yards on 26 red zone rush attempts.
Passing the ball will be no easy task, either. The Eagles are fifth overall against the pass. Their 22 sacks are third-most in the NFL and also have 13 takeaways on their resume this season. They have held opposing passers to a 79.1 QBR and are allowing just 214 yards per game through the air. They also have a turnover ratio of +6.
The primary goal this week will be to protect the quarterback. That is a challenge the Giants' shaky offensive line hopes they can rise to. The Eagles get pressure with little help from blitzes.
"Most of the pressure is coming from the front four," said Sullivan. "Prior to the Dallas game, they had 20 sacks and 15 of them came from the front four, excellent players. Brandon Graham obviously is playing at a high level on the edge and Bennie Logan inside and I know he's fighting through some injury issues. And, of course, Fletcher Cox is a dynamic defensive tackle so they are able generate a lot of pressure with the front four. Mixed in a little bit more pressure against Dallas and they have that as a part of their arsenal. Having Malcolm Jenkins, who does a heck of a job both from a coverage standpoint and a pressure standpoint. They're able to apply quite a bit of pressure just with their front four and that makes it a challenge."
The Giants, who are hoping to turn the page on their offensive troubles, could find themselves in big trouble if their offense sputters again this week. And the way its sizing up, that's a real possibility.