With the Giants' offense in seeming disarray as they head into Friday night's preseason game against the Jets, Eli Manning & Co. have received a vote of confidence from an unexpected source: former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, who retired at the end of last season after his offense foundered beneath the weight of injuries and ineffectiveness.
"My feeling is they're kind of fighting through this, and once they start paring down the offense for a specific opponent, they'll be much better than they've shown to date," said Gilbride, the Giants' offensive coordinator for their Super Bowl victories in the 2007 and 2011 seasons. "It's a normal pedagogical approach, where you teach the whole thing at once. When everything's thrown at you, it may not be perfect in terms of game-planning for that week, and it can look ugly."
Oh, it's looked ugly, all right.
Manning has struggled through the first three preseason games, Victor Cruz still hasn't caught a pass, and the first-team offense has looked mostly listless. But Gilbride, now an analyst for NBC Sports, said that all may be about to change. Perhaps as soon as Friday night.
Gilbride suggested that his replacement, Ben McAdoo, ought to do everything in his power to put the Giants in a position to make plays and maintain possession for extended drives, not the three-and-outs that have marred the first three games.
"You have to, at a certain point, let the people believe in what you're doing," Gilbride said. "The only way you get that done is experience some success. So I would do whatever I could to make them feel good about themselves. Have some experience and success, and you expect them to have more success. But when you're not in that cycle, you begin to question and doubt, and that's what they've got to get away from."
Gilbride said he likes what the Giants have done with their roster in the offseason and thinks the pieces are in place for what should be a solid season on offense. The Giants have gone away from Gilbride's system in favor of McAdoo's -- a West Coast offense that relies more on shorter drops and quicker passes. But as long as the Giants square away their issues along the offensive line -- a big if, considering the makeover since the beginning of the 2013 season -- Gilbride sees no reason they can't move the ball consistently. And no reason why Manning can't return to the form that helped him become one of the NFL's best quarterbacks.
"I have the greatest confidence in Eli, but this transition is hard," Gilbride said. "You've got a new language, a new approach, although it's not nearly as dramatic as people would like to make it out to be. But they've got two good running backs in Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams, the addition of [rookie wide receiver] Odell Beckham [Jr.] will be a valuable tool. I still think somebody else has to emerge at receiver, whether it's Rueben Randle, [Corey] Washington or [Marcus] Harris.
"They've added some good parts on the offensive line," he said. "Let's face it. Last year, they let [Kareem] McKenzie go, David Baas didn't play, Chris Snee was injured and Will Beatty came back injured. So it was an impossible chore. To the credit of the coaches and the players, we continued to fight and battle and we never made excuses. They've tried to address that area, and I think if they can be OK up front, that will help a lot."
As for Manning, his old offensive coordinator remains solidly behind him.
"I think the world of the quarterback," Gilbride said. "There's no question if you give Eli enough time, he's proven it that he'll win for you in big games. The bigger the game, the better he plays. We own every [offensive] record that they have there over the last decade, so you're always gambling when you change your approach. But I'm very confident in Eli."
That optimism seems unfounded based on what we've seen from Manning so far, but Gilbride's observations are valuable at a time like this. Especially the part about what might happen now that McAdoo will start game-planning for specific teams. But the offense is at a crucial moment in that process, and what happens next likely will determine their initial success -- or failure -- at the start of the regular season. Now it's time to step up to the plate," he said. "You have to start making plays and start producing some success."