Here’s a fun thing to think about: Has an offense with the quality of skill players that the New York Giants possess ever looked this bad? This is a team that lines up one of the best wide receivers in football, a rookie running back who treats defenders like bad guys in a Kung Fu movie, and a big, fast tight end who is perfectly suited for a modern NFL offense. And yet this team is scoring just 19.5 points per game, and got blown out 34-13 last night. The problem here is Eli Manning.
The degree to which Manning is holding back the rest of the Giants’ offense has become clearer with each passing week, and last night threw his flaws into the harshest light yet. He threw for 281 yards, but a huge chunk of those came on check-downs that left Saquon Barkley to do all the work. He couldn’t complete any passes that traveled more than a few yards down the field, and when his often-bad offensive line actually gave him time to throw, he couldn’t make anything happen:
The performance was so bad that head coach Pat Shurmur couldn’t hide his exasperation on the sideline. After Manning checked to a screen pass on one play, Fox cameras caught Shurmur throwing his hands up and saying, “Throw the ball!”
All of this happened just a few hours after ESPN published a report detailing how Manning has lost the confidence of his teammates, who see him as a quarterback easily smothered by zone and Cover 2 defenses. Nothing Manning did last night did much to counter that hypothesis.
Meanwhile, Barkley was out there playing like an action hero. He ran the ball 13 times for 130 yards, added nine receptions for 99 yards, and produced a handful of highlights in which he ran through and around the entire Eagles defense, looking like a much taller and stronger Barry Sanders.
When you have a running back like this, and a receiver like Beckham, scoring 13 points in a game isn’t really acceptable.
After the game, Shurmur insisted that he’s “not concerned about Eli,” and chalked up the loss to the whole team. It’s good that Shurmur isn’t willing to hang his quarterback out to dry, but he doesn’t need to in order for everyone to understand that Manning is the issue. Nobody should be surprised that the season has played out like this, either. Manning certainly got jerked around last season, but he’s 37 years old and the signs of his decline have been mounting for some time. Just because he didn’t deserve to get benched for Geno Smith last year doesn’t mean it was a good idea to head into this season with him as the starting quarterback.
None of this is really fair to Manning, either. For as polarizing as he’s been throughout his Giants career, he still won them two Super Bowls and provided more than a decade of quarterback stability. A player like that deserves a cushy send-off season, but unfortunately the NFL isn’t like the NBA, where a beloved but declining old-timer like Dirk Nowitzki can be buried a bit deeper in the rotation so as to avoid actively harming the team. There’s nowhere to hide on a football field, and doubly so when the position you play is quarterback. If this is to be Eli Manning’s farewell season, all that awaits him is more frustration and disappointment. All that awaits the Giants is another season in which in the talents of Manning’s younger and better teammates go to waste.