The only team to beat the Dallas Cowboys this season isn’t one of the other top teams in the league, like the New England Patriots or Oakland Raiders. It’s the New York Giants. They’re 8-4 on the season, and while their record would indicate they’re one of the better teams in the league, just how good are the Giants?
Recently, they’ve been struggling on offense, despite star power with Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr., and Victor Cruz. Their offense is ranked just 26th in the league, and they’re barely averaging more than 20 points per game. While they’ve been winning games, their latest loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers served as a wake-up call, and head coach Ben McAdoo knows it.
"It’s just consistency. We need to be more consistent,” McAdoo said after the loss. “We need to take care of the ball better. That showed up again [Sunday].”
One loss on the road isn’t anything to panic about, especially coming off a six-game winning streak. But those wins came against a reeling Ravens team, the Rams, Eagles, Bengals, Bears, and Browns. The two losses might have people questioning how legitimate the Giants are, but they might not have been as good as many might have believed them to be in the first place. Here’s some concerns we have with the Giants, despite their good standing in the NFC.
They haven’t been great on either side of the ball
Any great or remotely good NFL team typically has an identity. We know teams like the Seahawks and Broncos possess elite defensive units. The Cowboys and Patriots are known more for their prolific offenses.
The Giants, despite their weapons on offense, never really strike fear into opposing defenses. In the past, they’ve had great defenses, but this season hasn’t really been an example of that. But it has improved considerably from last season, when it was dead last in the NFL.
The most alarming part for the offense might be its sub-300-yard performances against the Browns and Steelers in consecutive weeks. The Browns in particular are the second-worst team in the league when it comes to total defense. The Giants have one of the best receiving trios in the NFL with Beckham Jr., Cruz, and rookie Sterling Shepard, but it just hasn’t happened for them this season. Targets have been somewhat sporadic — Shepard had none against the Browns, after having 11 the week before. The same has happened for Cruz, who has had just eight in the past four games, with none against the Steelers.
Their greatest offensive weakness has unquestionably been their rushing attack. The Giants are 31st in the NFL in rushing, with just 930 yards on the season and the longest rush being 25 yards. When a team’s rushing game is that poor, it’s definitely a contributing factor to the issues in the passing game. They’ve had Rashad Jennings carrying the load this season since Shane Vereen’s torn triceps in Week 3. Paul Perkins and Orleans Darkwa have had carries sprinkled in here and there, but it’s been overall ineffective. Vereen could make his return Sunday against the Cowboys, and it would be a very timely and welcome addition.
It’s always said that a team needs to be able to run the ball and defend in the postseason to have success. The Giants are just below average when it comes to total defense in the NFL but have a particularly hard time stopping the opposition’s passing attack. The Giants are near the bottom of the pack when it comes to pass defense. They’re able to somewhat make up for it with good run defense, but an injury to Jason Pierre-Paul that will keep him out for the remainder of the regular season hurts that moving forward.
The Giants have been winning games, but by very narrow margins
Before you think,“Hey, a win is a win, idiot” — Yes, a win is a win. They’re hard to come by on a week-to-week basis in the NFL, whether it be because of injuries, schedule difficulty, or just flat out talent level. The Giants look to be positioned well for a playoff spot, and nothing anybody can say will take that away from them. The concern here, again, is just how good the team is. That’s the only question we’re raising, and it’s an entirely fair one.
With that said, the Giants have had seven of their eight wins be within one score, three being by three points or less. This is notable because their strength of schedule is in the bottom third of the league.
Their point differential is just +8. For perspective, the Falcons, Steelers, Ravens, Bills, Cardinals, Vikings, Eagles, Chargers, Titans, and Saints all have worse records and a greater point differential. The Giants are coming away with wins, but rarely has there been a game where they weren’t giving their fans extreme stress down to the wire. Good teams find ways to win games, but the Giants seem to be doing so at the most excruciating of levels.
There seems to be a disconnect within the team
There have been rumblings surrounding the Giants all season. It started early with Beckham and his outbursts early during the season. He was fined for a crackback block on the Saints’ Kenny Vaccaro in Week 2. The next week, he fought a kicking net on the sideline. Then in Week 4, he got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for jawing at Vikings corner Xavier Rhodes.
It took him until Week 5 to find the end zone, and since then, he’s had eight touchdowns. SB Nation’s Thomas George reported that the Giants were prepared to bench Beckham if he didn’t calm down, which he ultimately did. At the same time, George reported a 75/25 split among players on supporting Beckham, which the majority did.
Even when things with Beckham were fine, McAdoo and Manning weren’t happy with him. Beckham had a huge game against the Ravens, with 222 yards receiving and two touchdowns. But because he got an unsportsmanlike penalty, McAdoo wasn’t pleased. “He came up to me right after,” McAdoo said. “We had a discussion about it. Can’t have it.”
Manning didn’t like it, either. “He made plays, so it's one of those deals where, hey you can get real sick of it if he's not going out there and making plays,” Manning said on Mike Francesa’s WFAN radio show. Manning would add that it’s an easier pill to swallow when he’s playing well.
More recently, Cruz has voiced his displeasure with the offense. When he was asked if he was frustrated with a lack of targets, he said, “Take a guess.” He added, “We'll see how it goes [Tuesday] when I step into work and have a conversation with Coach, which I plan on doing," he said on NFL Network, via ESPN.
Team chemistry is something that’s largely overlooked in the NFL, and it could really be a factor in the Giants’ close contests. If they hope for longevity in the postseason (if they make it), it’ll have to be better.