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Giants’ losses turn up heat on Ben McAdoo

Giants head coach Ben McAdoo looks on during

Giants head coach Ben McAdoo looks on during a game against the Lions at MetLife Stadium on Monday, Sept. 18, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Suddenly, and almost inexplicably, the Giants’ shocking 0-2 start has turned into a referendum on Ben McAdoo.

With his team reeling after back-to-back losses to the Cowboys and Lions — one more dispiriting than the other — and with his offense in the kind of disarray never before seen in the Eli Manning era, McAdoo abruptly has moved to the epicenter of his team’s early-season dysfunction.

Another loss on Sunday against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, and the heat will only intensify.

It’s a shocking turn of events for a coach who last year did a commendable job in leading the Giants to the playoffs for the first time since 2011. McAdoo proved to be a steadying influence in a tumultuous 2016 season, one that included the controversy surrounding kicker Josh Brown, who was suspended for the first game of the season and eventually was released after it was revealed that he had abused his wife on numerous occasions.

McAdoo also did fine work in addressing many of his players’ concerns about racial injustice in America, a topic that was widely discussed in NFL locker rooms after then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick publicly indicated his unwillingness to stand for the national anthem to protest inequality.

McAdoo ultimately got the Giants to the playoffs with an 11-5 record and was off to a fine start to a career the Giants hope can blossom into a long and successful run.

That still might happen, and a Giants organization known for its patience will afford him every opportunity to work his way out of this September swoon. Yet there is no denying McAdoo’s role in his team’s listless start, starting with his failure to get more out of what was supposed to be a much-improved offense.

The Giants have scored 13 total points, fewer than every other team except the Bengals (nine). They hadn’t scored so few points in the first two games of a season since 1947. Even the Jets, who might not win a game all season, have scored 32 points in their first two games.

It now goes beyond the play-calling, too.

McAdoo’s public criticism of Eli Manning for two mistakes in last Monday night’s loss to the Lions stood in stark contrast with his decision to downplay the blunders of third-year left tackle Ereck Flowers and veteran receiver Brandon Marshall. McAdoo didn’t think it out of place to chide Manning, who admittedly is off to a slow start, and the coach stubbornly stuck to his position during the week.

It was only on Friday, during an interview on the team’s website, that McAdoo acknowledged he was complicit in Manning’s delay-of-game penalty on a critical fourth-and-goal from the Lions’ 2-yard line in the third quarter. With the Giants trailing by 10 points and McAdoo seizing on the opportunity to create a spark by taking a chance, he acknowledged he took too long to get the play in.

“When we don’t get the ball snapped and the play clock runs out, that’s not good football,” McAdoo said. “Looking back on it, I can make the decision faster. I can get the call in faster.”

But he still wasn’t willing to unconditionally fall on his sword.

“I always look at myself critically, but it is up to Eli to get the ball snapped,” McAdoo said. “That’s every quarterback everywhere since the beginning of time, since there was a play clock. That’s the case.”

Manning did McAdoo a favor during the week and downplayed the public criticism, even telling reporters that when McAdoo joined the Giants as offensive coordinator in 2014, Manning asked him to point out the quarterback’s mistakes. That McAdoo went public was not a big deal to a player who is as good as there is when it comes to handling criticism.

Manning is more concerned with fixing what’s wrong with McAdoo’s offense. And there is plenty wrong. Like everything.

They can’t run the ball (48.5 yards per game).

They can’t protect Manning (eight sacks).

They can’t convert on third down (33 percent).

The offensive line play has been abysmal, with Flowers highlighting the struggles. With only two sustained drives in two games, there’s no way Manning can develop the kind of rhythm required to make McAdoo’s West Coast offense work.

Manning’s play certainly is an issue, and his reduced production in 2016 compared to what appeared to be a career revival in 2014-15 again has become a major concern.

McAdoo acknowledged a willingness to consider giving up the play-calling to offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, although he might be reluctant to take such a drastic step.

“Whatever is best for the team to have success is important to me,” he said. “It’s not ego. I don’t have an ego in this thing. It’s what I have to do to help the team be successful. If giving up plays means we can score one more point a game or one more yard a game, then I am willing to do it. I am not saying I am going to do it.”

If McAdoo can’t coax more points and production from his offense, the scrutiny will continue to increase. Deservedly so.

McAdoo will be given time to find solutions to the problems, as well he should be. The Giants aren’t prone to making rash decisions, and even with the increased cacophony of criticism, McAdoo’s tenure won’t be — and shouldn’t be — at issue in the near term. Coaching is a tough business, and figuring out complex problems like the ones afflicting the Giants takes time.

But given the sluggish start and the difficult schedule ahead, there is no guarantee McAdoo will turn things around immediately. If the losing continues and McAdoo’s clumsy handling of his quarterback isn’t rectified, then so do questions about whether McAdoo can work his way out of the mess his team has turned into.

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