The New York Giants have not scored more than one offensive touchdown in three consecutive games, which has not happened since Tom Coughlin's first season with the team in 2004.
The Giants offense is struggling to score, but why?
As they come out of their bye week, they have to turn it around. At 6-4, they open a tough closing stretch with the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. The scoring has to improve -- or they can forget about repeating.
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After studying their past three games on tape, it's clear why the offense isn't the same as we expected to see, the one we saw last season during their run to the Super Bowl, and it has nothing to do with Eli Manning's rumored dead arm.
There are several reasons for the Giants' struggles, but from watching closely the past three games, the biggest issue is the receivers haven't been winning and the offensive line isn't playing good enough.
Manning hasn't been as sharp, but part of the reason is that he has been pressured and he has had to pull the ball down a lot. Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, considered before the season as one of the NFL's best tandems, have to do a better job of winning against coverage.
The timing between Manning and his receivers has also been off, and he has forced a few passes.
Against the Steelers, he threw a pick into two defenders. He and Cruz also had a chance for a big play in that game, but Cruz settled down in the zone on the play while Manning thought he would continue up the field. It should have been a huge play. It was an incomplete pass instead. The same thing happened later in the game on the Giants' final drive. Cruz settled down, Manning thought he would keep running.
Here's a look at the interception Manning threw against the Steelers. As you can see, there is no way he should have been throwing in that direction. He looked to the right first, came back to his left, and then threw the ball. Ike Taylor (blue circle) had Cruz (yellow circle) underneath and safety Will Allen (red circle) had him over the top. It was an easy pick for Taylor.
In the Bengals game, the problem was the Bengals pressured Manning by rushing four and the Giants didn't have many open receivers. Leon Hall did a great job on Cruz, limiting him to three short catches, but the Bengals had seven in coverage most of the day, and Manning still got pressured.
Here's a play from early in the game. Manning sent four into the route against seven-man coverage. As you can see by the yellow circles all of his receivers are covered. So while Manning had some time initially, the pocket eventually collapsed. You can see by the second picture that Robert Geathers beat guard Chris Snee to dump Manning for a loss. This happened several times in the game.
Manning also refused some chances down the field. Maybe the rush had something to do with that. Here's an example. Manning completed a 9-yard in to Nicks (yellow circle). But take a look at tight end Martellus Bennett in the red circle. He was in man coverage, won easily, and had a chance for a big play. Manning never came off Nicks to see him. For most of the past four years, he has come off the primary to make big plays. This, to me, looks like the pass rush impacted him in that game.
Manning's high-yardage game in the past three is 215. Some of that is because he is not taking the shots down field. Some of it is the pass rush and a lot of it is that the receivers are not winning.
Nicks and Cruz have to be better. As for the running game, it hasn't exactly been great either. Some of that is because of the line's struggles -- and it has been all five of them at times -- but some of it is on the runners. They seem to be looking for the home run too much. Ahmad Bradshaw missed some holes in the Steelers games on the front side trying to make big plays on the backside.
Can the Giants turn it around? Of course they can. This offense has been Super Bowl good. It can be again. But it starts with the receivers winning and the line protecting. Manning has to get back to scanning the field and finding big-play chances, opportunities that he should have against the Packers.
1. The anatomy of a big play is fun to dissect. So I took a look at the 63-yard punt return by Baltimore's Jacoby Jones for a touchdown against the Steelers. The Ravens had a left return on all the way, but it was two good blocks that Jones split to help make the return possible. One of those blocks was by backup safety Sean Considine and the other was by backup linebacker Josh Bynes. Considine made the block on safety Ryan Mundy and Bynes got enough of tight end David Paulson to help form the crease for Jones to break through. You can see those blocks in the red circles in the picture below. Once Jones got through there, there really wasn't another Steelers player to make a play. He sprinted through the crack, cut to his right at the 45 and avoided a diving tackle by running back Baron Batch and beat punter Drew Butler into the end zone. The Ravens doubled outside gunner Will Allen on that side of the formation and he never got passed the Steelers 35-yard line and had no chance to make a play. It was a well-designed return, set up by two key blocks at the start.
2. What happened to the Texans' defense against Chad Henne, Justin Blackmon and the previously horrible Jaguars offense? The secondary, aside from Johnathan Joseph, had a really bad day. Corner Kareem Jackson had a rough go -- missing a tackle on Cecil Shorts' 61-yard touchdown catch -- but it was safety Danieal Manning, fresh off an impressive performance against the Bears the week before, who had the worst day. He bounced off Blackmon on the rookie's 81-yard catch-and-run for a score in the fourth quarter. On a 13-yard touchdown pass to Marcedes Lewis, Manning had a chance to come over and knock the ball away, but he went for the pick and Lewis caught it for a touchdown. And Manning, in off coverage on Blackmon, also got beat on a 63-yard catch and run. Here are a couple photos to show his tough day.
The first two pictures show the 63-yard catch. Manning, in the red circle, is on off-man coverage on Blackmon, who is in the yellow circle. Blackmon got on top of him quickly and Henne fired a shot inside for the big play. The second photo shows Blackmon inside of Manning.
The second set of pictures shows Blackmon's 81-yard TD catch. As you can see, Manning (red circle) is on the other side of the field from Blackmon (yellow circle). Manning was doubling Shorts. But when the ball was thrown, Manning pivoted to go make a play on Blackmon. But he bounced off him and Blackmon ran in for the score. Manning can't do that against the Lions this week or Calvin Johnson will have a field day.
3. Steelers receiver Mike Wallace is a tease. He can fly, but is he worth a big-money deal? Wallace will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and his speed is enticing. The Steelers might have a tough decision on whether to put the franchise tag on him. And a team looking for a big-play receiver might be reluctant to pony up a deal with an average of $11 million a season, which is what Vincent Jackson got from the Bucs. Wallace averaged 16.6 per catch last season, but he's down to 12.2 this season. The offense has change under Todd Haley, who doesn't run as many vertical routes. That has hurt Wallace, who is a speed receiver. It seems to be a waste not having him used on more vertical route. With Antonio Brown out, you would expect Wallace to be getting the shots. But in the past two games, he has seven catches for 40 yards. That's not even 6 yards per catch. That doesn't seem right for a guy with that speed. So I took a hard look at him against the Ravens. And, aside from the opening offensive play where he drew a big interference call on a long pass, he didn't do a lot deep. The Ravens' corners did a nice job of getting their hands on him early and not letting him get freely into his routes, which is where that speed is effective. He also fumbled away a ball after a catch early in the game and didn't get his feet down on a play that should have been a touchdown. To be fair, Wallace has played the past game and half with a backup quarterback. And he does seem miscast in the Steelers' new offense. It's hard to ignore his speed. But it's also hard to gauge him when he's not being used the right way and he fumbles away chances and doesn't get his feet down on a bang-bang play. Why the Steelers don't run the "9" -- go route -- more is a mystery to me.
4. Jackson has done wonders for Josh Freeman. He just trusts Jackson so much. You can see it growing every week. On the touchdown pass to Jackson late in the fourth quarter Sunday, Jackson had three defenders around him and Freeman had pressure in his face. But he threw a perfect pass past the earhole of linebacker Luke Kuechly that Jackson plucked out of the sky for the score. He controlled the ball through the ground, even though Kuechly rolled to the ground with him. It was a big-time catch and a tough throw. But the confidence Freeman has in Jackson showed. The rapport between the two showed on a 19-yard out earlier in the game when Freeman threw long before Jackson made his break. On a 22-yard throw to Jackson in the fourth quarter, Freeman showed off his patience in the pocket. He allowed Tiquan Underwood to run a deep route, pulling the coverage with him, and then fired a shot to Jackson on a deep cross for a big play. The Bucs paid Jackson big money as a free agent, and he is a big reason why Freeman and the offense have improved so much.
5. When I watched the Green Bay-Detroit game, I thought the Packers offensive line was bad. After watching the tape, it was worse than I thought. If they don't improve, Aaron Rodgers is going to get killed. Without right tackle Bryan Bulaga, the Packers have moved guard T.J. Lang to right tackle and put Evan Dietrich-Smith in at left guard. Both had some protection issues last week. But they were not alone. Josh Sitton, normally one of the best right guards in the league, also was whipped at times. Nick Fairley got him for a sack that made Sitton look like a journeyman. Lang and Dietrich-Smith were called for holds on back-to-back plays in the first quarter. Lang gave up a sack to Cliff Avril. The Lions had three sacks, but Rodgers' ability to escape pressure and his quick release prevented four or five others. That line has issues. Center Jeff Saturday, a smart veteran, gets overpowered at times in the middle. He isn't made for moving people on his nose and he has problems with big tackles in pass protection. If Dietrich-Smith plays like he did against the Lions, the inside rush could kill the Packers. The Giants have to be excited to play that front.
1. Texans WR Andre Johnson: This is the guy we expected to see all season long. That was impressive against the Jaguars.
3. Bills RB C.J. Spiller: With that speed, it's amazing he doesn't carry it more.
4. Jets DE Muhammad Wilkerson: We rip the Jets for a lot of personnel mistakes, but this kid isn't one of them.
5. Lions DT Nick Fairley: For weeks, I've been saying he's the best tackle on the Lions roster. His monster game against Green Bay proves it.
1. Falcons QB Matt Ryan: He threw five picks, his worst game of his career by far.
2. Ravens QB Joe Flacco: Man, was his game at Pittsburgh ugly. He missed a ton of passes.
3. Eagles DE Trent Cole: Where is he? What happened to him? This guy was once a sack machine.
4. Steelers RT Mike Adams: He had rough go of it against the Ravens. He has to be better.
5. Bears T Gabe Carimi: He has regressed in his second season. He looks so stiff a times.
Three and outs
Three college coaches who the NFL teams should target:
1. Chip Kelly, Oregon: He isn't afraid to take chances.
2. David Shaw, Stanford: He is a lot like Jim Harbaugh in the way he wants his team to play -- minus the antics.
3. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M: Love this guy's approach to coaching. Why didn't he go to Arizona State?
Three head-scratching games of 2012 as we look back:
1. Eagles beating the Ravens
2. Cardinals beating the Patriots at their place
3. Rams tying 49ers at Candlestick