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Giants Gameday: Can things get worse for Big Blue?

The Giants' Eli Manning, Orleans Darkwa and Evan Engram

The Giants' Eli Manning, Orleans Darkwa and Evan Engram walk to the sideline during a game against the Seahawks at MetLife Stadium on Oct. 22, 2017. Credit: Jim McIsaac

WORST-CASE SCENARIO

Two days after the Giants lost their opener to the Cowboys, Eli Manning was standing in front of his locker when it was suggested that at least things couldn’t get much worse than the effort that produced an anemic 19-3 loss.

Manning chuckled a little.

“It can always get worse,” he said. “It can always get worse, so I won’t say that. But hopefully it can get a lot better though.”

He was right the first time. The Giants’ season has been in a tailspin since it began, and it shows no signs of improving. On Sunday they will face the Rams, a team that averages more points per game this season (30.3) than the Giants have scored in any single game since 2015. Since their last loss two weeks ago they have been called out for lacking hunger by their general manager, had one of their best players go AWOL and get suspended, had their head coach lie to the press about that player’s whereabouts, and have fewer healthy players than they went into the bye week with.

Ben McAdoo has asked the team to “flush” the first half of the season. They may need a plunger.

“We need to move on to the second half,” McAdoo said. “It’s important for us to get better as a football team and the thing I asked of these guys is just take it one game at a time and one play at a time. Don’t hold on to what we did the first half, but let’s go out here and be the best team we can be in the second half of the season.”

Hey, it can’t get much worse, right? . . . Right?

FAMILY TIES

The Rams and Giants are practically related.

Rams head coach Sean McVay isn’t the only member of his coaching staff with a family member who was once head coach of the Giants. His grandfather Jim McVay served in that role from 1976-78. And Rams special teams coordinator John Fassel is the son of Jim Fassel, the Giants’ coach from 1997-2003 who led them to a Super Bowl appearance.

Fassel has long been considered one of the most innovative and successful special teams coordinators in the league. His team this year is tied for the league lead with 13 kickoff returns of more than 20 yards and is one of two teams to return a kickoff for a touchdown this season.

CLOSER THAN YOU THINK

The most haunting aspect of the Giants’ forgettable season is just how close they were to being at the other end of the NFL spectrum.

“Who’s the best team in the NFL right now? Philadelphia? 7-1? And we had them at their place,” offensive lineman Justin Pugh said this week. “That’s how close the NFL is. A 1-6 team, fourth quarter with two minutes to go. We’re up seven points and then three points on who everyone wants to consider one of the best teams. So that’s the disparity in the NFL. It’s just one play.”

The Giants led 24-21 with less than a minute left in that game, but gave up a pair of field goals in the final 51 seconds, including a 61-yarder as time expired. The meltdown dropped them to 0-3 at the time and has since propelled the Eagles on what seems to be a path to the playoffs.

“A 61-yard field goal and we’re talking about a different story,” Pugh lamented.

RAMS HAVE LIFT-GOFF!

It was easy to eye-roll Jared Goff as a bust last year when he had a less-than-impressive rookie season as the top overall draft pick in the NFL. This year, though, he’s changing the narrative and is the quarterback of the league’s second-best scoring offense.

“He’s really growing,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said. “I think he appreciates the experience he had last year, learning from it in the right way. I think the biggest thing though, that I’m most [impressed with] is just the mental toughness that he demonstrates week in and week out and how he responds to some of the things that might not always go your way, especially at the quarterback position.”

In seven games last year Goff threw five touchdowns, seven interceptions, and was sacked 26 times. Through seven games this year he has nine TDs, four INTs (including zero in road games) and has taken just 10 sacks. That’s one of the best second-year improvements by a quarterback in NFL history.

Goff’s passer rating has climbed 26.7 points from his rookie year to this season’s mark through the first seven games, and the differential could go even higher with a strong second half. Here is a look at the quarterbacks who have made the largest jump from Year One to Year Two in that category:

Player // Rookie PR // 2nd Year PR // Difference

Derek Carr // 76.6 // 105.7 // +29.1

Jeff Garcia // 77.9 // 106.0 // +28.1

Josh Freeman // 59.8 // 87.1 // +27.3

Jared Goff // 63.6 // 90.3 // +26.7

Dan Marino // 96.0 // 120.9 // +24.9

NOT-SO-TIGHT COVERAGE

Make sure Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett are activated for your fantasy football team this week. Those are the two tight ends for the Rams, and if history is a guide they are in store for a very big day.

That’s because the Giants have allowed eight touchdown receptions to opposing tight ends this season, the most in the NFL. Their streak of allowing a TD to a TE in regular season games is eight straight going back to last year’s finale.

Defensive coordinator Steve Spaguolo, however, seemed unfazed by the production from that one position against his schemes.

“I worry more about the guys out there to be quite honest with you,” he said of the wide receivers.

The frustrating part of it for the players is that most of those tight end TDs have come on very similar plays.

“There haven’t been a variety of different ways, it’s been the same formation,” safety Landon Collins said. “The first six times have been the same formation. We had to adjust to it. We finally adjusted to it the last [game.”

That meant adjusting their zone coverages in the red zone in particular.

“We just had to figure it out,” Collins said. “They attacked our zone coverage we like to do in the red zone and they figured out a way to beat it and now we figured out a way to stop it. So you’ve got to learn. You learn, then you figure it out, then you keep it moving from there.”

Even with that adjustment, Seattle’s Jimmy Graham found the end zone in the Giants’ most recent game, extending the ignominious streak in which the Giants have allowed at least one touchdown to a tight end in each of their games this season.

“We have to do some other different things and we have installed those to help us a little bit,” Spagnuolo said.

OLD FACE, NEW OUTLOOK

When Devin Taylor was cut by the Giants, they were considered Super Bowl contenders.

He returned to the team this week, less than two months later, to find them at 1-6 and all but eliminated from contention.

The defensive end who spent the offseason and preseason with the Giants was re-signed on Tuesday to help bolster an injury-riddled position, and he came back with an outsider’s perspective on what has already been a disappointing and trying season for the team.

“It was just a bunch of random stuff that always seemed to keep happening to them in different losses,” Taylor told Newsday this week. “At times it seemed like they were about to get going and then something would happen and then they would fall back again.”

All of those heartbreaks add up to where the Giants are now, a far cry from the stature they held when they cut Taylor at the end of the preseason and were getting ready to take on the Cowboys in the regular-season opener.

Taylor said he’s not exactly surprised that the Giants have flopped.

“I felt confident in the team doing well,” he said. “But everything is always a year-by-year thing, game-by-game, so you really can’t determine what’s going to happen whenever you start a season.”

NUMBERS GAME

34.3: Points the Rams are averaging on the road this season with 41 points in San Francisco, 35 in Dallas and 27 in Jacksonville. They are 3-0 away from Los Angeles this year.

5.37: Yards per rush for Orleans Darkwa this season, which is the third highest in the NFL entering this week’s games among players with at least 50 carries.

12: Career TD passes thrown by Eli Manning in five career games against the Rams. He has thrown just one interception in those games and the Giants are 5-0.

16: Years since the Giants last lost to the Rams. They have won seven straight against the Rams, last losing to them on Oct. 14, 2001, by the score of 15-14 in St. Louis.

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