After failing to score an offensive touchdown in the Sunday Night Football Week 1 opener, it was obvious to point the finger at the absence of Odell Beckham as the root cause for the New York Giants' ineptitude. The star wideout suffered an ankle injury during a preseason game against the Cleveland Browns and he was unable to suit up for his team's first regular season game. Beckham made his return Monday night against the Detroit Lions and it revealed that the Giants' offensive dysfunction runs much deeper than just his place on the team.
New York found the end zone just once tonight when rookie tight end Evan Engram snuck in for his first NFL touchdown after the Lions left him wide open. It's fair to note that Beckham clearly wasn't ready to come back at the height of his powers. He went out for just 61 percent of the team's plays, trailing both Sterling Shepard (100 percent) and Brandon Marshall (85 percent). A truly dominant Beckham will certainly raise the tides for this scoring unit, but it needs to be quite a wake to raise this group from the trench it's currently anchored in.
The issues start up front for the Giants. Eli Manning was under pressure on 30.3 percent of his passes from the pocket. None of the sacks delivered to Manning came on a play where the Lions blitzed. The left side of the offensive line was particularly leaky, as Ereck Flowers was noticeably beat on a number of plays:
With Manning being anything but a mobile quarterback, the inability of the offensive line to give him a steady platform to throw cuts the offense's margin of error to razor-thin proportions. With quick pressure coming toward him, Manning must get rid of the ball quickly. His 2.61-second average time to throw was the 15th-fastest among Week 2 quarterbacks.
The need to quickly get rid of the ball, or face the consequences of waves of pass-rushers, makes it impossible for plays to develop in the Giants' offense. The Ben McAdoo offense is a west-coast based system predicated on timing routes. When a lack of pass protection foils that offensive construction, a scoring attack that should provide plenty of chuck throws off in-breaking patterns and slants is suddenly permeated by low-percentage throws.
Manning threw 40.6 percent of his passes into tight windows Monday night, where the receiver had less than a yard of separation. That's up from Week 1, when 28.9 percent of his passes registered as a tight window throw, 12th-highest of the opening slate of games. The lack of separation provided by his intended pass-catchers has been an issue through both of Manning's first two games. To his credit, Manning did some strong work on tight window throws. He completed 10 of 13 passes for 112 yards with a 102.1 passer rating.
No Giants receiver had more than two receptions in tight coverage, so the separation issues weren't exclusive to any one player. Beckham averaged just 1.5 yards of separation on his targets, which is well off his normal standards. He ranked second in the NFL last season among No. 1 wide receivers with 2.77 yards of separation on his targets, trailing only Antonio Brown. The lack of space is notable, as the Giants weren't exactly working him downfield either, with an average of just 6.9 air yards per target. Beckham's performance, in addition to being on a pitch count, just underscores the fact we aren't yet watching him in full-fledged form. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, we'll see a Beckham that can be a threat in all areas of the field and used at all levels.
Perhaps the biggest worry for the Giants is the utter lack of any positivity from the early returns on their acquisition of Marshall. The veteran receiver led the team with a 26.6 percent share of Manning's intended air yards but turned in just one catch for 17 yards. His one catch came on a tight window throw, as did his only Week 1 reception. Marshall is not adding any dynamism to this offense, nor has he done much to widen that narrow margin for error. At 33 years old, Marshall appears to be in the middle of the sunset portion of his career, and the Giants must now come up with more answers outside of the veteran receiver to shoulder the load beyond Beckham's work.
After an 11-5 finish and Wild Card berth in 2016, the Giants looked primed to take another step offensively after offseason additions. Through two games, the returns look anything but promising for a repeat performance. Beckham is a game-changing force and one of the NFL's true elite difference makers, but he may have an impossible task on his hands in reigniting a dormant scoring attack, even when he is closer to full strength.