Eli Manning can say what he wants about not being worried over the Giants' sluggish offense so far in the preseason. Phil Simms isn't buying it.
"I know he says all the right things, but I'm sure it's bothering Eli," the former Giants quarterback and current CBS analyst told me. "There's no doubt if I was the quarterback, it would be bothering me, too."
Simms stands by the contention he shared with me in the offseason that the West Coast offense can be as good for Manning as Dan Reeves' offense was for Simms late in his career in 1993. But Simms also knows that time is running out for Manning before the regular season starts, and if the offense doesn't get it together in a hurry, there could be some real trouble when the games start to count.
"I'll be honest, but I'm surprised [the Giants] let themselves get in this situation," Simms said. "Sometimes, you've got to go out there and try to accomplish a goal. Do everything we can, just to take care of the quarterback today. Let's do it for him, because he's a pretty important guy."
Simms believes the Giants ought to do everything they can for Manning Friday night in the next-to-last preseason game, against the Jets at MetLife Stadium. In a game that generally serves as the final dress rehearsal for the regular season, where the starters play into the third quarter, it is urgent that Manning builds some momentum and confidence. Even if Manning himself insists his confidence hasn't been rattled by his slow transition to new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's offense.
"You've got to give the quarterback, no matter who it is, rhythm and confidence," Simms said.
That goes for two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterbacks, too. Manning has two rings to show for his previous 10 years in the league, but he's coming off a career-worst 27 interceptions in 2013, and the switch to the much more nuanced West Coast system is proving as difficult as Manning himself had feared coming into the preseason.
Remember how Manning said before training camp that he was more nervous than usual, and that he felt in some ways like a rookie while learning the new offense? Well, it looks like that anxiety was justified, because he has not been remotely effective so far. And going against a Jets' front seven that is among the best in the league may not do much for his game, although the Jets' injury problems in the secondary might give Manning just a little more breathing room than the previous three preseason games.
If Simms were wearing McAdoo's headset, he'd be calling in as many plays as necessary that will give Manning some confidence that he can operate an offense that has taken even the best quarterbacks years to master.
"It's really important for [McAdoo] to get Eli in rhythm and get some completions this week," Simms said. "I don't care if they're screens, flea-flickers, whatever. You just gotta do it."
Easier said than done. Especially with Manning not only adapting to a new offense, but adapting to new teammates and a radically different offensive line than the one he's been used to. The Giants' line is so unsettled that McAdoo was using multiple combinations this week, at one point flipping Justin Pugh from right tackle to left tackle and using guard Brandon Mosley at right tackle instead of right guard. Factor in the collective inexperience at tight end, which is an integral position in the West Coast scheme, and Manning's challenges loom even larger.
There's one more thing, too, about Manning, and it really has nothing to do with the players around him. It has to do with his lack of speed and quickness. A classic drop-back passer, Manning can't easily scramble out of danger like other more prominent West Coast quarterbacks Steve Young, Aaron Rodgers or even Joe Montana, who was very nifty in the pocket.
Manning has been good over the years at stepping quickly out of trouble within the pocket, but the quarterback in this offense moves around quite a bit more than a prototype drop-back passer. So Manning is at a distinct disadvantage there.
Put it all together, and the concerns about the Giants' offense are legitimate. Which is why this game takes on even greater urgency. And why Manning needs to do something here to regain his confidence and go into the regular season feeling he can effectively run this offense.
"They've got to accomplish something here," Simms said. "It's very important at this point in time."