It didn’t take very long for the blueprint to make its way around the NFL.
You want to stop Odell Beckham Jr.? Don’t focus on zones or double-teams or rolling safeties over to his side of the field. Go at him where he apparently is the most vulnerable. Attack the part of his game that constitutes his one weakness on the football field.
Get in his head.
A combination of verbal taunts and physical play by defenders has unleashed an emotional dragon inside Beckham that has reared itself the past two weeks, causing him to suffer a sideline meltdown against Washington and draw a taunting penalty against Minnesota. That Xavier Rhodes’ tactics not only made Beckham lose his cool but held him to career lows in catches and yardage in the Vikings’ win only helps legitimize the strategy.
Beckham, though, is starting to catch on. Finally.
“It’s like blood in the water,” he said Thursday of his behavior, which has been the subject of so much public scrutiny and certainly has caught the attention of defenders. “The shark smells the blood, he’s going to swim around it. Apparently there is blood in the water. You just keep swimming. Be fearless. It’s tough to be in that situation, but it is what it is. I would do the same, probably.”
Not everyone sees it that way. Giants offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan went on a long rant calling out cornerbacks who resort to mental warfare against Beckham.
“The only reason a guy tries to get him off his game is because they’re not confident enough in their abilities,” Sullivan said. “They’re afraid to match up against him one-on-one, mano a mano, if you will. If that’s going to be the approach . . . Obviously, the guy is not courageous enough or man enough or brave enough, whatever you want to say, to go ahead and play it straight up. If they need those types of tricks, OK, then so be it. We’re going to rise above it.”
The problem is that Beckham has not been able to rise above it. His career has been littered with episodes in which opposing defenders have been able to distract him. Josh Norman may be his arch-nemesis, but there are plenty of others who have been able to push Beckham’s psyche to the point of affecting his productivity.
It’s become not only the hottest talking point in sports this week but one of the defining long-term issues for the Giants: How to rein in Beckham without handcuffing his abilities.
“To ask a player to go out and play the game nicely isn’t going to cut it,” Ben McAdoo said in his weekly radio appearance on WFAN. “It’s an insult to every player and every coach in the history that are involved in the game. Now, we have to play within the rules and we have to be smart, but it is a physical man’s game regardless of any position that you play.”
McAdoo refuted a report that Giants coaches have gotten to the point that they have threatened Beckham with a benching or even a suspension if he cannot control his on-field antics. “I’ve got this young man’s back,” he said.
So does team co-owner John Mara, who weighed in on Beckham’s recent issues from, of all places, the Vatican, where he is attending a conference on faith and sport. “He’s a young man who is very emotional but he’s basically a very good young man who does a lot of good things off the field,” Mara told The Associated Press. “He plays the game with a lot of passion and sometimes he goes a little too far . . . Unfortunately for him, it seems like everybody’s focused on him right now.”
They will be until Beckham gives them a reason not to be. Or gives them something else to talk about, such as touchdowns and wins. “I think it’s gotten to a point where I just want to compete,” Beckham said. “None of the extra stuff. I just want to compete . . . I just have to control what I can control.”
And that, first and foremost, means himself.