USA TODAY Sports’ Lorenzo Reyes looks at the three biggest story lines heading into week 14 of the NFL season.
USA TODAY Sports
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The offense has become predictable and unproductive, and as the New York Giants enter the home stretch of their schedule, a fix is necessary.
Rookie receiver Sterling Shepard was not targeted in a victory against the Cleveland Browns in Week 12 before veteran Victor Cruz did not have a pass thrown in his direction during Sunday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Quarterback Eli Manning actually apologized to Shepard, while Cruz had “an honest conversation” with head coach Ben McAdoo.
“When you have good receivers and a lot of playmakers, some weeks you’re going to get targeted more than others,” Manning said. “It’s not necessarily because of the game plan. It’s just what other teams are doing, what they’re playing and how the game unfolds.”
So what to do?
Wideout Odell Beckham Jr. offered some thoughts.
“Just spread it around,” he told reporters Wednesday in the locker room. “Move it around and play fast. I feel like when you play fast, it makes it harder for other teams. They may make mistakes. Even if you play fast and make a mistake, at least you’re making it full speed. I think it’s a lot harder for defenses to adjust and call what they want to call when the offense is moving at such a fast pace.
“I feel like the defense will worry about lining up more. Definitely have to find ways to get the ball in the hands of the playmakers. Like we’ve been preaching, we just need to be more productive on offense.”
McAdoo said that changes could be coming to the offense.
One place to start might be the personnel groupings. The Giants have run a staggering 90% of their 299 first-and-10 plays this season using three receivers, one tight end and one running back. They rank last in the NFL with only 112 unique lineups on offense. As solid as the Giants’ pass catchers are, that kind of predictability could be giving defenses an advantage.
Force feeding passes to Beckham may also be part of the issue. In the last two weeks, he has fielded 27 targets. Over that span, Shepard and Cruz combined for 13.
When McAdoo was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach this offseason, the prevailing thought was that New York’s offense would be the team’s strength. Instead, it’s been the biggest weakness — and not just because of the struggling passing attack. New York’s anemic ground game ranks second-to-last in the NFL, gaining only 77.5 rushing yards per game.
“I think it is just a level of consistency from top to bottom,” Cruz said. “Not just the receivers, not just the tight ends — I think it is everyone being on the same page, because it takes all of us to be on the same page in order to be productive and successful from top to bottom.”
The Giants are one of only four teams who have failed to score 30 points in a game this season. They are tied for 23rd in scoring, averaging 20.4 points per game. With 327.4 yards per game, they are 26th in total offense. Compare that to last season, when New York scored 30 or more points seven times. The Giants finished eighth in yards (372 per game) and sixth in scoring (26.2 points per game).
And it likely won’t get any easier to find the end zone for a team that likely has to secure a wild card to reach the playoffs.
New York’s next three games come against some of the league’s stingiest defenses, each ranked in the top 11 for fewest points allowed. Sunday night’s showdown against the Dallas Cowboys is hugely important since a season sweep of the first-place Cowboys (11-1) is the only way the Giants (8-4) can win the NFC East. But just getting a win is vital as teams behind them, like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers, begin heating up.
“This is a playoff game for us in my mind,” said Beckham, who’s apparently already looking toward a Super Bowl path.
“So are the rest of them. You have to win eight games. That’s how I look at it. You have to win eight games straight.”
Follow Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes
PHOTOS: Week 14 NFL games ranked by watchability