The New York Giants were poised for a trap game. They were coming of an impressive win over a divisional opponent; it was a prime time game, and the team was inducting three luminaries into its’ Ring of Honor. The Cincinnati Bengals were coming off a bye, and seemed poised to pull off the upset over the slightly favored Giants. It never happened, and now the Giants are in the driver’s seat towards a post season berth and meaningful December football.
The Monday night showdown against the Bengals was preceded by victories from their division rivals. The Giants kept pace by defeating the Bengals in another less than perfect performance.
A win is a win, and the crucial aspect of this victory is the timing. A misstep against the Bengals could have sent the wheels spinning heading into games against the lowly Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns. A good football team imposes its will against teams like the Bears and Browns. The inclination right now is to label the Giants “good”, and a good team asserts itself in December.
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This team still has flaws, but the Giants two biggest could tank them once the gauntlet begins on December 4 in Pittsburgh. The Giants are still atrocious running the football, and continue to give the ball away much more frequently than they take it away. There may be no more telling stat in terms of winning and losing than turnover differential. And while Ben McAdoo might brush “stats” aside, the fact remains that his team can not seem to get out if its own way.
Giants Must Find Running Game
The Giants must also enact some semblance of a running game heading into December. This month must be stressed not only because it is the stretch run of the regular season, but because of the opponents lined up. Following the game in Pittsburgh, the Giants host the Lions and Cowboys, one sure fire playoff team and the other, a hungry group led by a potential MVP; and end the season on the road against the Eagles and Redskins. The cake walk that has been the middle of the season ends abruptly, and the Giants must be prepared.
The offense has shown it has not been fully prepared for an entire game this season. The defense, with new additions all around, appears to be rounding into shape. Monday night was an example of that; aside from a gimmick play on the first drive, the Bengals had no continuity or read on the defense. Blitz packages and man-to-man coverage kept an experienced Andy Dalton on his toes all night. It was a resounding effort from the defense that hearkened back to days of Osi, Strahan, and Tuck. As Odell Beckham said, this is a playoff caliber defense. It appears the Giants defense is made for the playoffs. Given an adequate running game and offensive putout, this defense can thrive.
Offense Still Lacking
Unfortunately, the Monday night game also illustrated what continues to be a lack of aggressiveness and assertion from the offense. Aside from the final drive, where Rashad Jennings gashed the Bengals for more than 30 yards, the Giants mustered barely anything on the ground. Eli Manning still threw two ugly interceptions and had numerous passes bounce off receivers hands.
The passing game has no vertical stretch and seems to have limited variation in the route tree. It seems to continuously finds itself in second and long situations. These situations could be avoided if the running game could amount to anything positive; but thus far, the Giants have shown only a middling effort in establishing a rushing attack. The first drive of the game, which also happened to be the offense’s most efficient, featured no running plays and six passes. While it wasn’t that easy the entire game, completely abandoning the run is not a recipe for success in the long term.
And the long-term is the expectation for the Giants right now. A long-term season that stretches into January and validates the $200 million in off season expenditures. It outfitted an aging arm with diminutive receivers and inexperienced tight ends. The comparisons to 2011 have already been made, but the only similarities are Eli, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Zak DeOssie. This is fully Manning’s team, and as he goes, this team goes. The fourth down touchdown pass to Sterling Shepard at the beginning of the fourth quarter exemplifies Eli’s mastery and intuition. The go-ahead score was a display of preparedness and knowledge of the opponent that only a few other quarterbacks can replicate.
I was admittedly weary of keeping on Eli for anything beyond next season. I was ready for Nassib or a prospect to-be-named to take over. But Manning has shown why he will be remembered as a top three Giant of all time. The Giants might not make the Super Bowl this year, but one thing opposing defenses definitely do not want to see is another Manning in January.