The Giants ran 62 offensive plays on Sunday against the Jaguars. Forty of them were attempts to put the ball in the hands of Odell Beckham Jr. or Saquon Barkley. That seems like a sound strategy.
“I think it’s a good idea to throw him the ball,” Pat Shurmur said after the game, rather dryly, when noting the number of passes in the direction of Beckham. On Monday Shurmur noted, when asked about those 15 targets, “I think we might be here some day when he doesn’t get that many and you’re saying: 'Why don’t you throw it to him 15 times?' ”
The Giants have two of the NFL’s top playmakers in their dynamic duo and are one of the few teams in the league that can boast that kind of potential from a wide receiver and a running back who are on the field at the same time.
Yet the average gain on 39 of those 40 plays in which the Giants tried to use them – removing Barkley’s big 68-yard touchdown -- was 4.35 yards. Which presents a big question for the Giants' offense: Are they too reliant on the home run?
They got one of them Sunday, and it was terrific. But they missed on a few others, including a deep post pass to Beckham and one of Beckham’s longer catches on which he was wide open and had to come back for an underthrown pass. The Giants are a big-play team, and when those plays don’t materialize, it seems as if it will be difficult for them to grind out drives and get in the end zone. To borrow another baseball cliche, they don’t seem like a team that can manufacture runs.
That’s not something they seem to apologize for.
“You like to create big plays, and we want explosive plays within our offense,” Shurmur said. “We’re trying to create them. We threw the ball down the field quite a bit, actually, and we also threw some intermediate throws that we had success with.”
But when none of them finds the end zone, the Giants struggle.
That’s not to say they will all season. Surely there will be games when those deep passes connect and the Giants start scoring points in bunches. And one never knows when a running play will become a highlight clip with Barkley in the backfield. A perfect example is that the 68-yard touchdown run came on the exact same play that was called and run on fourth-and-2 earlier in the second half. That time Barkley gained just 1 yard.
“I want to continue to call runs,” Shurmur said. “You never know when a big one’s going to pop up like that. That’s what happened there.”
That’s fine. Actually, that’s really good and exciting and a luxury not many teams have. Certainly not one the Giants have had in recent years. But relying on it to happen seems dangerous.
“They were there,” receiver Sterling Shepard said of the big plays, particularly in the passing game. “We just have to hit ''em. If you call those home runs, we just didn’t hit ‘em.”
Had Barkley broken off one more crazy run, had Beckham broken a tackle after one of his shorter catches or been able to connect with one of the deeper incompletions, it wouldn’t even be an issue. The Giants likely would have won and everyone would be impressed by the dynamic new offense. It’s why that muffed punt at the end of the game that robbed them of a chance to score in the final minute was so painful. The Giants are built for just such a situation -- that any time they can get the ball in the hands of their playmakers they can take it to the house.
None of that happened, even with the Giants admittedly focused on trying to make it happen.
As Shurmur noted, getting the ball to Beckham is rarely a bad idea.
“Yeah, we’re gonna do that,” Eli Manning said unapologetically. “We want to try to get him the ball.”
The same goes for Barkley.
“You give the ball to Saquon and he’s gonna do his magic,” said Shepard, who had a key downfield block on the touchdown run.
Beckham and Barkley will, throughout this season, produce big plays and find the end zone and lead the Giants to victories.
But in games such as Sunday’s, when that doesn’t happen often enough, the Giants need to find other ways to score points and move the ball. Or else there will be a lot more postgames like this one spent talking about the what-ifs and almost-hads rather than a victory.