The juxtaposition is as stunning as it is unexpected.
With the Giants coming off a season in which their defense was not just bad, but epically and even historically bad, it is now the offense that is the biggest source of concern in the wake of their final dress rehearsal for the regular-season opener in Dallas.
With the backups expected to finish out the preseason Thursday against the Patriots at MetLife Stadium, the starters’ game action is mostly done until the results start to count. And the Giants now find themselves in the unusual position of featuring what could be a markedly improved defense from last year’s calamitous unit, while the offense is still looking for an identity after three successive lukewarm-to-woeful performances in the exhibition season.
First-year coach Ben McAdoo, who presided over two of the best statistical seasons in Eli Manning’s long and distinguished career, is calling all that ails the offense “correctable,” including some shoddy work by an offensive line that might be the biggest question mark coming into the season. And while that all-encompassing word of coachspeak goes a long way toward justifying some of the rough edges we’ve seen so far, there is certainly cause for concern heading into the regular season.
“Everything with the offensive line is correctable,” McAdoo said Sunday after evaluating the tape from the Giants’ 21-20 win over the Jets on Saturday night. “Our detail and our fundamentals need to improve, and we need to stay out of long yardage situations.”
There is no need to panic — not yet, anyway — for a unit that was part of an offense that did just fine last year. With left guard Justin Pugh about to return from a shoulder injury, incumbent left tackle Erick Flowers heading into his second season and promising center Weston Richburg in his third, it is still a dependable group from left-to-center. Right guard John Jerry and right tackle Marshall Newhouse are average, but it’s worth remembering that the collective offensive effort last year was plenty good.
That offense wound up producing 5,956 yards, with Manning accounting for 4,432 through the air. His 35 touchdown passes were a career high, and his 35-to-14 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio was the best of his career.
So if there’s any encouraging news, it’s this: The offensive group that will head into the regular season has already shown it is more than capable of putting up yards and points. With Odell Beckham Jr. getting better each year, with the return of Victor Cruz and the emergence of rookie Sterling Shepard, the passing game should be dominant once again.
The running game remains a question mark, with no dominant runner on a roster that will take a tailback-by-committee approach. But in a passing league, the Giants can get by with Rashad Jennings and the rest of a rather ordinary lot.
Does the preseason offensive ineptitude register on the worry meter? Sure. You want to show more than the Giants have so far, especially the first-team unit. Manning doesn’t have a touchdown pass in three games, and Jennings has averaged just 1.5 yards per carry.
But it’s important to note that the Giants have done no serious game-planning over the summer, and it would be a shock if this group doesn’t show a lot more firepower starting with the Dallas game.
The far more promising news is the defense, which has benefited from general manager Jerry Reese’s offseason spending spree. Defensive lineman Olivier Vernon, who has looked terrific in his limited preseason work, highlights that group, as well as fellow defensive lineman Damon Harrison, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and Jason Pierre-Paul, who was re-signed.
Rookie cornerback Eli Apple has looked rock solid. Second-year safety Landon Collins is light years ahead of where he was last year. Linebacker J.T. Thomas is back from injury, and there is decent depth at middle linebacker, which is still without a clear-cut starter.
The defensive makeover will go a long way toward wiping away the stench of last year’s group, which allowed 6,725 yards. The 4,783 passing yards allowed was the highest total in NFL history. The 442 points they allowed were the second-most in league history.
This year’s group looks the part, and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo should have the kind of pass rush that helped him choreograph a Super Bowl run in 2007. We won’t elevate this unit to that level just yet — there’s no Hall of Fame talent like Michael Strahan here — but it’s enough to work with.
And if the offense emerges from its summer slumber, then this can be a balanced enough team to compete for a divisional championship and a meaningful playoff run.