New York Giants  

 

Plenty of blame to go around for Giants' ugly 1-3 start to season

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The dam finally broke on the New York Giants midway through the third quarter of their 33-18 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday and when it did, the season itself may have been buried.

The Giants gambled on their present, and more poignantly their past, this offseason. They eschewed the rookie class of quarterbacks, stood by 37-year-old Eli Manning, did a patch job on the offensive line and then stuck their electric first-round pick, Saquon Barkley, behind it. The result was on full display Sunday in a somnolent slog that exposed the Giants' painful reality: Even with a vastly improved defense, the Giants' future isn't just cloudy. The present is ugly, too.

At 1-3 and saddled with an offense that mustered only 10 points against the league's worst scoring defense when the game was still well within reach, the Giants were a little testy (the otherwise affable coach Pat Shurmur) and a little morose (Manning). The defense kept Drew Brees out of the end zone in four trips inside the 20-yard line in the first half, before finally allowing a touchdown drive midway through the third quarter that foretold the Giants' doom. That first half was all any team can hope for against a top-five offense. But the Giants have failed to score even 20 points in three of their four games, harkening back to the offensive ineptitude that cost Ben McAdoo his job last season and set the Giants on what was supposed to be a dramatic reconfiguration.

Instead, this iteration of the Giants looks like the one they hoped they left behind. The run blocking was abysmal -- Barkley had one run of 28 yards and nine other runs for a total of 16 yards. During a second-quarter drive that ended with a fumble by backup running back Wayne Gallman, Barkley was not even on the field. Odell Beckham Jr. had seven receptions for 60 yards, but 16 of those yards came on the Giants' final drive when they were down by 15 points and the game was all but over. With the Saints determined to take away deep plays, the Giants still could not consistently get the ball into the hands of one of the league's most dangerous receivers to let him create a play, particularly early in the game, when Beckham had two receptions for minus-4 yards. With three snaps from the New Orleans 14-yard line in the third quarter, Manning never once went to Beckham, who was, seemingly, a decoy. The drive ended with a field goal instead of a touchdown.

"I don't have a Richter scale for how frustrating it is," Beckham said of the Giants' current state. "It's definitely frustrating. It seems like it shouldn't be this hard, but it is. We've got to come out with the energy like we had last week. It's got to be everybody."

Beckham admitted that the Giants' first drive, in which they gained 60 yards (not including a 15-yard penalty on the Saints) and scored a touchdown, made him think the game was going to be a good for New York. And then the Giants gained just 27 more offensive yards the rest of the first half.

Shurmur had no answers. He said that Barkley touching the ball more "would be good," but later he said the Giants also want to make sure Gallman is involved. The soft zone the Saints played meant the Giants had to peck away but he couldn't explain why there weren't more short underneath passes for Beckham.

Shurmur was clipped when he was asked if he had to make massive changes.

"No, we need to get better," he started. "What does that mean, massive changes? We need to get better."

Shurmur allowed later that perhaps the Giants need to do some things differently. The hard truth is that there are no massive changes to be made. At 37, Manning can still complete passes when he has time and the offense is in rhythm, as it was early in the game and then late, when the Saints were protecting their lead. But he also sails some passes and sometimes holds the ball too long. The Giants saw the flashes of his old self last season as a sign that, with the right talent around him, he could again be the kind of quarterback who took them to two Super Bowls. But his struggles are more rule than aberration, and the offensive line is simply not good enough to give him the time he now needs to excel and to get the ball to Beckham. The O-line is also not good enough to give Barkley space to get into the open. That means that two of the NFL's most dynamic playmakers are rendered moot.

There is plenty of blame to go around. Manning should come in for his share, but so should Shurmur, who has to figure out a way to get the ball into his best players' hands, and, of course, to the front office that seemingly miscalculated so badly on what they had. At 1-3, the season is not over, not in a division where the leader (Washington) is 2-1. But the Giants don't have much to build on with three quarters of the season still to go. They feel, instead, like a team in retreat, like one that hasn't been able to slow the skid that began last season.

"You just keep working and you play your way out of it and you coach your way out of it," Shurmur said.

That may be all the Giants can do, until time runs out on the present that the Giants were so certain was worth banking on.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @JudyBattista.

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