Wednesday, December 15, 2004

A Giant Dilemma

By Michael Eisen, Giants.com
Is the Giants’ offense having trouble scoring because Eli Manning is struggling, or are Manning’s problems the result of an offense that offers him little help?

Coach Tom Coughlin didn’t provide an answer in a conference call today, but acknowledged the Giants need better play from the quarterback and those around him as they enter the final three weeks of the season.

Manning and his mates both had forgettable games in the Giants’ 37-14 loss to the Ravens Sunday in Baltimore. The rookie quarterback completed only four of 18 passes for 27 yards, did not lead the Giants to the end zone and finished with a rating of 0.0. The offense put its only points on the board with 3:25 remaining, after Kurt Warner had replaced Manning and the outcome had long since been decided.

The Giants lost their sixth consecutive game, the last four with Manning as the starting quarterback. Manning has taken the snaps for 46 offensive possessions and has the led the Giants to one touchdown. He has one scoring pass and six interceptions. As a team, the Giants have scored 37 points in four games, including one touchdown apiece on defense and special teams.

So who do you blame first, the quarterback or everyone on the offense?

“I think it’s hard for us right now to find a whole lot of positives on the offensive side,” Coughlin said. “It really was a situation (in Baltimore) where we needed the players around him to play at a higher level to help him so that he doesn’t have to be in the middle of making of every play or a high percentage of every play. Obviously, that’s not the case. But it has to start. The quarterback has to make plays, there’s no doubt about that either.”

When Manning left the game midway through the fourth quarter, the Giants had 58 yards of total offense. Immediately after the game, Coughlin announced to the team and then to the media that Manning will remain the starting quarterback. As a reward, Manning will face Pittsburgh on Saturday. The Steelers have won 11 games in a row and have the NFL’s top-ranked defense.

To some, it seems like a good week to give Manning a break and let Warner, the veteran, stabilize the situation. But Coughlin does not believe Manning should watch for a week.

“I don’t think that’s the answer,” he said. “I think you have to compete and look at the defenses we’ve played over the last few weeks, and that’s just part of the deal. I can’t make it any easier for you. It is what it is. You are playing against the best in football without a doubt and it’s week-in and week-out. And, of course, it doesn’t get any easier this week. I don’t know that that’s the answer. I will say that we have got to take better care of the football (after turning it over six times in Baltimore). I’m not going to sit here and stand for that now. That’s not even giving us a chance to win when we turn it over like that.”

The Giants players remain supportive of Manning. Coughlin was adamant that he does not have to “sell” Manning to the team after four disappointing weeks.

“We had a discussion in the locker room following the game yesterday and I think the players are in agreement with it,” Coughlin said. “I told them exactly that it was my responsibility, I made the decision. I said that Kurt played an outstanding game when he came off the bench, but Eli remains the starter. Eli’s got to go out and do what I believe what he told you after the game, to make plays so his teammates realize that he can win the game for them.”

While conceding that Manning played poorly against the Ravens, Coughlin believes one or two successful big plays could get the quarterback and the offense headed in the right direction.

“I look at it trying to be as positive as I can. You’ve a young guy who has faced a series of defenses, particularly on third down, which he had worked well against during practice,” Coughlin said. “Obviously, practices are not the same speed as you find on Sunday. He worked against them well during the week. He threw the ball at the right spot and he had momentum going into the game. Those things were on schedule. He didn’t get off to a good start in the game, didn’t make some plays early on.

“I thought the way in which the game started for us with the fumble on the kickoff and the fumble on the next series didn’t help him or anyone on the offensive side. Then to finish that up with an under thrown interception in which (Amani) Toomer had a step on (Gary) Baxter wasn’t a positive either. I just think that like anybody else, if something good would happen for Eli and the offensive team, I think they would feel a lot better about themselves.”

But opposing defense are making that very difficult by using all kinds of exotic blitzes and coverages to confound Manning.

“What they’re trying to do obviously is confuse the look that he has,” Coughlin said. “It’s causing him to pause at the line of scrimmage, which really is affecting the offense, because we seem to be over the ball for such a long amount of time. We just have to make a determination and go. They’re moving around, so obviously you just have to make a call and stick with it. They’re doing that for the obvious reason, to try and confuse the young player when in the long run there are some keys where they are either going to bring the predetermined number of people or come in a fashion that’s relatively familiar to him. I thought we had a pretty good workable scheme for either their four-down or three-down fronts in the sub-package and the third-down package in the game when we went in. I think that pretty much held up except they did cause some new and different alignments.”

Coughlin knows a rookie quarterback is going to make some mental mistakes. But he doesn’t want to see Manning falter in the physical aspect of his game, or start using bad mechanics.

“I think when he tries to hurry the ball his mechanics aren’t the way they should be,” Coughlin said. “I think there were two or three tipped balls early in the game where he was trying to sidearm the ball in between defensive linemen, for example, that I’d rather he didn’t do that or release it at the high point. But during the course of the game, sometimes you have to do things. I’m always concerned with fundamentals and we’ll continue to work on that.”

Perhaps in the next three weeks, the Giants will reap a reward from that hard work.

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