Odell Beckham Jr. was barely there last night. The excellent Vikings defense held him to a career-low three catches for 23 yards, all on a single second-quarter drive that didn’t cross midfield. Minnesota merely perfected what’s emerged as a solid strategy to keep Beckham in check—he hasn’t scored a touchdown this season, after averaging nearly one a game (25 TDs in 27 starts) over his first two seasons. And then, the knock-on effect that’s been revealed: When Beckham doesn’t get the ball, he gets frustrated.
Vikings corner Xavier Rhodes, with occasional help, had kept Beckham without so much as a target for the first 22-plus minutes of the game, and the two had been jawing. When Beckham hauled in a short out route for four yards, Rhodes hit him on his way out of bounds. Beckham got in Rhodes’s face, and earned a 15-yard penalty for taunting.
The NFL’s experimenting with a rule this year that mandates ejections for any player who racks up two unsportsmanlike conduct calls, and Beckham, whose on-field temper first emerged when guarded and goaded by Josh Norman last season, is an obvious target. Opposing defenses are finding it easier to provoke him than to keep the ball out of his hands, but if they can do both, like the Vikings did last night, Beckham becomes a liability for the Giants.
GM Jerry Reese pulled up a chair at Beckham’s locker after the 24-10 loss and the two talked for more than 10 minutes, apparently with Reese doing most of the talking. Beckham was told he needs to keep his head, needs to stop being baited into mistakes so easily. I’m sure it was frustrating for Reese to even have to have this talk, one week after Beckham’s mini-meltdown against Washington was labeled a “distraction” by head coach Ben McAdoo.
Beckham acknowledged that he has to better control his emotions, but tell me if this quote doesn’t sound like someone who thinks the entire NFL is out to get him:
“I just have to know the scenario, that refs are looking to call anything [on me] and they’re not looking to call anything the other way,” Beckham said. “That’s just the position I’m in.”
Asked if he got an explanation from the referees on the taunting penalty, Beckham said: “There’s no explanation, it’s just always my fault. That’s all I look at it as — that it’s just my fault. I just have to understand if I sneeze the wrong way it’ll be a flag, it’ll be a fine. If I tie my shoe the wrong way it might be a fine or a flag.”
None of this would be an issue if the Giants’ passing game was rolling, but it’s not. The Skins and now the Vikings have decided to emphasize high coverage to take away the deep ball, always an Eli Manning specialty, and to force Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Victor Cruz to take the ball upfield with relatively short throw. Last night, the Giants didn’t complete a pass longer than 14 yards, and the one time Manning did look for Beckham down the field, it went poorly for everyone:
New York will face few defenses as adept as Minnesota’s, but it’s a guarantee they’ll face many more that double-team Beckham and attempt to goad him into taking penalties and losing his cool. And if the 2-2 Giants, fourth in the NFL in passing yards per game but a lowly 27th in points scored, keep failing to find the end zone, Beckham’s frustration will be contagious.