In anticipation of the Indianapolis Colts (5-3) traveling to East Rutherford, N.J. to face the New York Giants (3-4) on Monday Night Football GiantsBeat.com writer David Aitken answered five questions about the Giants.
1. When we saw the Giants in preseason, the O-line was having issues. How has Eli Manning's protection been so far?
On the whole, the Giants’ offensive line has been better than expected after how they looked in the preseason. Outside of two major failures – the opening game in Detroit and the six-sack fiasco in Philadelphia – the pass protection has held up solidly enough and at times quite well. The key here though has been the switch to the West Coast offense under new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, as Manning has really reinvented himself as a decisive, accurate short-to-intermediate passer. Manning is getting decent protection but he’s also getting the ball out quickly. The big names are the first-round pick from a year ago, right tackle Justin Pugh, and the highly paid left tackle, William Beatty. Both have had good seasons overall, but are recently coming off their worst performances. Pugh struggled mightily in Philadelphia and Beatty in Dallas.
2. How have the Giants recovered from the loss of wide receiver Victor Cruz? Does Manning have enough capable pass catchers?
It’s fair to say the Giants haven’t quite recovered yet. McAdoo’s offense functions with a three-receiver set the majority of the time, and the ideal coming into the season was to have the trio of Victor Cruz, third-year receiver Rueben Randle and this year’s top pick, Odell Beckham Jr., all healthy and offering the offense something a little different. That ideal was scrapped pretty quickly as Beckham sat out pretty much the entire preseason and the first handful of games as well. Beckham has had an impact since returning though, with a game-winning touchdown in his debut versus Atlanta and two touchdown receptions two weeks ago in Dallas. What the Giants have lost most importantly with Cruz though, and there are hopes Beckham can replace this soon, is the dynamism with the ball after the catch. Randle has actually been Manning’s favorite target this season to less-than-spectacular efficiency, and particularly in the red zone watch out for tight end Larry Donnell. Overall, Manning has capable pass catchers, but the feeling is until Beckham gets more comfortable, the loss of Cruz has hurt the explosive potential of the passing offense.
3. The Colts got handled at Pittsburgh because the Steelers went max protection and gave Ben Roethlisberger all the time in the world. Do you anticipate the Giants doing the same thing, keeping six and seven blockers in to make sure the Colts' blitz isn't effective?
This will be interesting to see because while McAdoo favors the base three-receiver set the Giants are a little thin at receiver (they only dressed four in Dallas) and do like to incorporate both Donnell and Daniel Fells at tight end. More likely though, I think you will see the Giants try to trust their system – beat the blitz with quick, short passes rather than absorbing the pressure with additional protection and look for home runs.
4. Assess the play of the Giants’ defense so far. The G-men are known for a ferocious pass rush. Is that the key to this defense, getting pressure with the front four?
The Giants’ defense is a talented unit, but certainly has its flaws and injuries have taken their toll. The much-hyped secondary that was assembled in free agency took its first hit when nickel CB Walter Thurmond saw his season end just two weeks in. Starting CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been a difference maker while on the field, but has struggled with injuries and has been limited for a while now and the early indication for this Monday sounds like the same story. CB Prince Amukamara and Rodgers-Cromartie make a great pairing when actually together, but Amukamara on his own has struggled with some of the league’s upper-echelon receivers like Julio Jones and Dez Bryant the other week.
If there is one player who needs mentioning, it has to be the second-year defensive tackle out of Ohio State, Jonathan Hankins. He showed enough flashes as a rookie to trust GM Jerry Reese to let Linval Joseph walk in free agency and Hankins has repaid that faith in full. Hankins has been a handful against the run and the most success the opposition has had running the ball has come away from Hankins. In terms of the pass rush, the Giants are certainly looking for someone else to step up aside from Jason Pierre-Paul and it has been a recent issue. The popular call is for 2013 third-round pick Damontre Moore to see more time, and free-agent signing Robert Ayers as well. On Pierre-Paul himself, it has reached the point where most have come to accept that his 2011 season was an aberration and to be accepting of what he is – a very good two-way end.
One of the Giants’ biggest weaknesses, and one I expect the Colts will exploit, is the inability to cover tight ends. Expect Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener to be featured heavily in Andrew Luck’s list of targets.
5. The Giants had issues early, seemed to get things corrected, then had a rough game at Philly. Where do you see this team at the moment? How would you gauge their playoff chances?
The Giants have the talent to be a playoff team, but it has been an uphill battle and will continue to be given some of the injuries the team has been dealing with. Not only Victor Cruz, but also running back Rashad Jennings has been a difference maker and he missing multiple games has been a major problem as his all-around game keeps the Giants offense balanced. The injuries offensively to Cruz, Jennings and in the preseason the injury to guard Geoff Schwartz has put a lot of pressure on rookies to step up on offense to mixed results.
What makes this game versus Indianapolis so big for the Giants is it kicks off a very difficult four-game stretch. After hosting the Colts, the Giants will travel to Seattle, welcome the 49ers, and then have their rematch versus Dallas. At this stage, it doesn’t look good for the Giants because of how tough the NFC playoff picture is and the fact that the Cowboys and Eagles right now are a class above in the NFC East. Another way to look at it, though, would be to say the Giants have three matchups following this one against teams they’re battling for a playoff spot, so the playoffs are in their hands.
Overall, I think this stretch just comes at the wrong time for the Giants given the injuries they’re still dealing with and it’ll probably put to rest their chances at postseason play. But the one thing the Giants can hang their hat on is that Eli Manning is legitimately playing some excellent football, and when your quarterback is playing well it gives you a chance in almost every game you play.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.