The New York Giants entered Sunday’s matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers riding a six-game win streak. This past week, the main question regarding the Giants concerned their legitimacy heading into a tough December schedule. Sunday’s game proved the Giants are still lacking some traits to be competitive against championship contenders. The team was bullied by the Steelers in a 24-14 loss at Heinz Field.
The final 24-14 score does not reflect the one-sided game this was. The Steelers showed some semblance of assertiveness and efficiency on offense. The Giants, as has been the case for parts of this season, did not. The Steelers displayed a fortitude and ability to overcome turnovers, penalties and officiating; the Giants did not. They bullied the Giants for stretches. And perhaps most jarring, Ben Roethlisberger displayed a mastery and savvy from the quarterback position that made his draft day counterpart look like a shell shocked rookie. Eli Manning is truly the strangest anomaly in the NFL, and with each passing week, his pedigree and ability becomes more ambiguous.
In the traditional sense, an “elite” or “franchise” quarterback is one that keeps his team in games, elevates his game to accommodate the circumstances and transcends adversity to empower his team. These traits are fleeting, but for brief moments, Manning has exulted himself into this category of elite. He has proved himself capable of not only managing a winning football team, but elevating the players around him, which truly signifies a great quarterback. However, Sunday afternoon showed a quarterback clearly outclassed and outperformed, and decidedly not equipped to lead a team to significant victories. Where Manning’s leadership and overall ability is deserving of scrutiny and at times harsh criticism, the rest of his team has shown a propensity for under-performing.
The offense was granted tremendous field possession on numerous occasions against the Steelers. The Giants’ first red zone trip began promising and ended somewhat expectedly, via a Manning interception. On this particular play, Larry Donnell, who had been inactive the past few weeks was on the field. Donnell’s presence in itself was strange, but the lack of deception and ingenuity to insert a one dimensional pass catcher from inside the 10 yard line is asinine.
As expected, Eli looked Donnell’s way, apparently missing the Steeler’s linebacker sitting in the zone in front of Donnell. Lawrence Timmons picked off the ill advised throw and returned it 50 yards the other way; extinguishing an ideal scoring situation and effectively halting any momentum the Giants offense may have secured.
Other offensive tendencies that are absolutely mind boggling include targeting Odell Beckham one time in the first half. Another is force feeding the ball to least productive offensive player, Rashad Jennings. Continuing to run 11 personnel, which has been discussed ad nauseum with this team, and the predictability is infuriating. In terms of formations, the Giants utilize mostly one tight end and one running back. Keep in mind that the Giants line up in this formation almost 95 percent of the time. An absurd display of redundancy that obviously has not worked.
The top 10 pick used on tackle Ereck Flowers is looking less and less justified. He is the most penalized tackle in the NFL this year. Any purport of improving technique is immediately refuted upon watching him struggle recently against an array of defensive ends. According to John Gatta of Pro Football Focus, Flowers allowed seven pressures on 40 pass plays, compared to four from the other Giant lineman combined.
Troy Aikman made a great remark during the telecast. He said that any sack statistics associated with this offensive line have less to do with their play as a unit and all to do with Eli’s ability to avoid a sack and get rid of the ball. And that is something Eli is remarkably efficient at, getting rid of the ball to avoid a sack. Aside from the skewed sack numbers, the offensive line has paved the way for the league’s 31st ranked rushing attack. The most promising running back on the roster is passed over in favor of Jennings, even as Jennings averages less than 3.5 yards a carry.
Usually the defense offers a reprieve from the incompetence of the offense. Landon Collins, Olivier Vernon, Eli Apple and the rest of the unit are exciting to watch. Against the Steelers, they kept the Giants in the game. However, the lack of any offensive output doused any chance for a competitive game. The best running back in football, La’Veon Bell, was kept relatively in check. The defense also forced two turnovers. The offense could not manage to take advantage; and the team is now faced with a crucial four- game stretch that includes three divisional match-ups.
Living Up to Poor Expectations
The past week has been filled with postulations, inclinations and observations about the Giants. Unfortunately, it only took until Sunday evening to validate the worst of these inklings and disregard optimistic assumptions. They were dubbed Super Bowl contenders, shoo-ins for the playoffs and a legitimate threat to the Cowboys. After playing against a competent and developed football team, the Giants have shown themselves to be nothing beyond a legitimate marginal playoff team.
Any team, from the 4-7 Panthers to the 8-4 Lions. have a chance to make or miss the playoffs. Much of the playoff race depends on the resolution of the final month of the regular season. What should be a source of confidence and resolve, has instead devolved into an unstable piece. Eli Manning, like Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, needs to be the factor that tips the scale in favor of the Giants. An experienced and successful quarterback is an advantage, but the Giants’ leader appears to be the opposite.