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July 21, 2019

Leonard: Giants can’t afford more missed opportunities from Eli Manning

September 14, 2018

Eli Manning’s Giants offense scored three points the last time he played in Dallas, without an injured Odell Beckham Jr. last September. Manning’s offense then scored just 15 points last Sunday with a healthy Beckham on the field.

Manning threw zero touchdown passes and had an interception returned for a Jags TD. And so the Giants incredibly lost by five, despite trailing Jacksonville only 13-6 at halftime and the defense shutting out the Jags the entire second half.

That is called finding a way to lose.

So, sure, the storyline ‘Can the Giants Defense Stop Ezekiel Elliott?’ is pertinent for this Sunday night’s Giants (0-1) showdown at Dallas (0-1). James Bettcher’s ‘D’ certainly has more to prove against power backs after the Jags’ Leonard Fournette rumbled for 41 yards on nine carries before suffering a hamstring injury in Week 1.

But the real story here is that Manning needs to score points. Manning needs to make a play.

Eli Manning not being able to point the Giants offense in the direction of the end zone is becoming a concern for Big Blue. (Bill Kostroun / AP)

Because John Mara and Steve Tisch just hired another offensive coach in Pat Shurmur to figure out a side of the ball that the Giants consistently haven’t gotten right. Because Shurmur called a good enough game in Week 1 to beat the Jaguars, 23-13 — despite the offensive line’s deficiencies and four dropped passes — instead of losing, 20-15.

Because Saquon Barkley gave Manning a 68-yard touchdown run and they still lost. And because Beckham was open for two touchdown passes that never landed in his hands, because Manning didn’t do his part.

The opportunities were there, at least, thanks to play design and talent. So there is hope, especially going against a Dallas Cowboys team that scored only eight points in a 16-8 Week 1 loss at Carolina.

“If we do things just a little bit better in some areas, then that score is way different and the outcome might be way different,” Shurmur said Thursday before practice. “And those are the things you work on in practice to make sure that the next time those come up, you hit on them.”

It depends on how you look at it, then: are the missed opportunities signs of a Giants offensive explosion upcoming against Dallas or more evidence that Manning doesn’t have much left?

Consider: Beckham gained 155 yards on 14 plays last Sunday, catching 11 passes for 111 yards, rushing once for -1 yards, and drawing 30-yard and 15-yard pass interference penalties on the Jaguars’ vaunted secondary.

But if Manning had been accurate on his two overthrown missed TD pass attempts, and if Ereck Flowers hadn’t negated OBJ’s early 6-yard reception with a penalty, Beckham would have accounted for 207 yards and two touchdowns on seventeen plays.

Eli Manning runs off the Met Life field a Week 1 loser after dropping season opener to Jacksonville.
Eli Manning runs off the Met Life field a Week 1 loser after dropping season opener to Jacksonville. (Jim McIsaac / Getty Images)

He was on pace to do this against a Jags defense that had allowed an average of just 169.9 passing yards in 2017.

“Maybe I need to do more then,” Beckham said of the Giants’ unusual 7-13 record in the games he’s produced 100 or more receiving yards. “You can put together a 100-yard game … but if you’re not putting points on the board it’s hard to win games. So we need to put more points on the board. If I need to step up and do more, I’ll step up and do more. That’s what I plan on doing.”

Beckham needs help to do more, though. He can draw the Jaguars into what Beckham called the “Hack-A-Shaq” strategy, pass interference penalties by both Jaguars DBs Barry Church and Jalen Ramsey on the final possession of Sunday’s first half that brought the Giants offense to Jacksonville’s 11-yard line.

But he needed Manning to put the ball where it was supposed to be to cap the drive with a touchdown. Manning, who admitted in a radio interview this week that ideally his throw on the play would go towards the “corner,” instead rushed an overthrow under pressure over the middle of the field.

He then missed Beckham on a deep post early in the third quarter in the end zone on a play Manning continues to blame on Beckham’s route, their miscommunication about it, and Church’s bump of Beckham.

Beckham said Thursday of the missed connection: “It’s just first game stuff, everybody getting on the same page and just connecting. Like, you’ve got to hit those. And we didn’t connect on that one, but it’s the first game of the season, OK, we can watch all that film, next time we hit it. The rest of the times, we start hitting it.”

Manning needs to be better, like mostly everyone else on that side of the ball.

“Like the whole offense, I think there was some signs of really good play,” offensive coordinator Mike Shula said Thursday. “I love the way (Manning) moved in the pocket. He gets the ball out fast. We just weren’t quite consistent enough. We just had a couple opportunities there where if we hit ’em, we can get points on the board and then it would be a totally different ball game. So I think he’s like everybody else, working on being more consistent.”

This is increasingly pressing because Barkley looks like the real deal. He is exuding confidence after his Week 1 debut. The rookie running back said Thursday that “the sky’s the limit” for this offense if they put all the pieces together. And he said even before Sunday’s game against Jacksonville, he had “no doubt at all” that he’d be capable of such an electric touchdown run at the NFL level that he’d executed many times at Penn State.

“You believe that any time you touch the ball you can score,” Barkley said. “A lot of it’s just reaction, watching film, and believing in yourself, seeing the defense, seeing how we’re going to attack them, continuing to gain belief. That’s how those big plays happen.

“The thing that I took from the first game is it’s just like college, to be completely honest,” Barkley added. “When I say that I don’t mean the speed, I don’t mean the physicality. I mean just that you’ve got to continue to stick with it. Especially at running back, continue to grind out those tough runs and continue to tell the O-line that one’s gonna split. And when they give you an opportunity, take advantage of it.”

Barkley is referring to the adversity of the Giants’ 22 other carries for a measly 46 yards (2.09 per carry) not including his touchdown run. Certainly, against an athletic Cowboys defense led by LB Sean Lee and a pass rush paced by DeMarcus Lawrence, the beleaguered Giants offensive line will have its hands full again.

There are two game-breaking talents on this team, though, who can put the Giants’ offense on their backs and win this crucial game for the road team. All Manning has to do is make sure he gets Beckham and Barkley the ball.

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