Eli and Odell.
After a dozen years and two Super Bowls under Tom Coughlin, the fact that the Giants had three straight losing seasons and four non-playoff campaigns since capturing their last Lombardi brought change. Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, who oversaw the last season’s eighth-ranked offense after coming over from Green Bay, was promoted. The bigger problems were on the other side of the ball. So what’s happened? Big Blue has slipped to 21st in offense, in large part to a non-existent run game, while averaging only 20 points per game. And they’re on a four-game win streak to improve to 6-3.
Eli Manning turns 36 in less than two months but is in his 12th straight season without missing a start. He’s been there through thick and thin and is up to seventh in NFL history with 309 touchdown passes, eighth all-time in completions (3,920) and ninth with 46,668 passing yards (335 behind No. 8 Fran Tarkenton). His touchdown-to-interception ratio this season is a pedestrian 15-to-10, with three lost fumbles, and his passer rating of 87.6 ranks 21st. But the guy has obviously been the “constant,” despite not being close to the vocal leader his brother was in his Hall-of-Fame career. Eli will never beat you with his feet (518 career rushing yards and a 1.9 average), but what’s considered a mediocre-at-best offensive line has allowed just 12 sacks. Derek Carr (11) in Oakland is the only regular signal-caller this season to have been sacked fewer times.
McAdoo made the gutsy call early in the fourth quarter Monday night to go for it on fourth-and-goal on the Cincinnati three-yard line, trailing 20-14. They set up so rookie wideout Sterling Shepard had linebacker Vontaze Burfict in isolation at the goal line, and Eli zinged it in to him for what turned into the winning score. Shepard’s 39 catches rank second among rookies, and he has been a key addition with Victor Cruz (25 catches, 377 yards, one touchdown) trying to see if he can recapture his star status after missing a stretch of 26 straight games the two previous seasons with calf and knee injuries. Cruz sat out Monday with an ankle injury but is expected to return against the Bears.
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But Cruz had already taken a back seat to Odell Beckham Jr., the meteoric first-round 2014 pick who was considered somewhat of a gamble because of his own injury history at LSU. Despite the occasional diva-like drama when opponents get in his head and a love-hate relationship with sideline kicking nets, he’s produced with the best. He reached 3,500 career receiving yards in just his 36th game, topping the mark previously held by Lance Alworth by one game. As good as Tracy Porter’s been this season, Beckham's quickness will be a challenge for him or perhaps Bryce Callahan who, if healthy, might be a more suitable matchup. But that’s a big “if.” Beckham had 10 catches for 97 yards Monday and made Pac Man Jones look ridiculous on a touchdown reception. Tight ends Larry Donnell and Will Tye have combined for 42 receptions.
The weakness, as mentioned, has been the ground game. It’s dropped from 19th to 31st (74.2 yards per game). Rashad Jennings rushed for 863 yards (4.4 average) a year ago, but that’s down to 255 and 3.2 this year. Monday night’s 87 yards on 15 carries were a bright spot. His complement, Shane Vereen, is on injured reserve, and before his better outing versus the Bengals, there was thought fifth-round rookie Paul Perkins would be getting more snaps.
The left side of the line and center Weston Richburg is the strength up front. 2015 first-rounder Ereck Flowers mans the left edge but might be better suited, long-term, on the right side. They lost left guard Jethro Pugh two games ago for up to a month with a knee injury. Brett Jones, whose last start before Monday was in the CFL in 2014, was injured on the first series, testing the depth further. With right tackle Marshall Newhouse trying to work his way back from a calf injury, the Giants are leaning on former seventh-round pick Bobby Hart.