The Giants gave the NFL a look at what they can do when they get some good offensive line play on Sunday afternoon. At least they did in the first half.
And that turned out to be enough.
Behind their new-look line -- Chad Wheeler in for benched right tackle Ereck Flowers and John Greco in for injured center Jon Halapio -- Eli Manning had time to throw, Saquon Barkley had room to run, and the Giants' maligned offense managed to score on all four of their first half possessions enroute to a 27-22 win over the Houston Texans. And the blocking absolutely made all the difference.
Manning was near-perfect, completing 25 of 29 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns. More importantly, he had time to operate the offense more often than not. That means he didn't rush many throws, nor did he have to rely on check-downs and dump-offs. He had time to find the hole in the defense as the Giants spread their weapons out all over the field.
Again, that was mostly in the first half. For much of the second, the Texans defense managed to get pressure -- especially from defensive end J.J. Watt. But the offensive line rallied to put together one final drive near the end of the game - a nine-play, 77-yard march that ended with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Sterling Shepard that put away the game.
This game is really Exhibit A for what the new regime of GM Dave Gettleman and coach Pat Shurmur have been trying to tell everyone since they were hired. Manning, at age 37, can still play as long as he has time to throw. It's actually hard to stop an offense that has Odell Beckham (9 catches, 109 yards), Shepard (6-80-1) and Barkley (82 yards rushing, 35 yards receiving) when the quarterback has time to get the ball to the right places.
Who knows if it'll last? But that 20-point outburst in the first half? That's what the Giants offense is supposed to look like. This was just the first time Manning had time to make it work.
Here are some other notes and observations from the Giants' first win of the season …
- The benching of Flowers was long overdue and the Giants certainly had reached the point where they had to try something, anything, just to see if they could get better production from his spot. It'll be interesting to see how Wheeler holds up in the long run, but he certainly was a better option in this game. He had his hands full with Watt, and in the first half especially it very often looked like he was about to get beat by his speed or his power. But somehow, more often than not, Wheeler did just enough to keep Watt away from Manning or out of the running lane. That was in the first half, though. Watt found his groove in the second half and finished with three sacks. So Wheeler's performance was uneven, but against an all-pro opponent he showed promise in his first start of his season -- which almost certainly won't be his last.
- Manning was outstanding, completing 25 of 29 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns. His performance proves how foolish some of the talk has been over the last couple of weeks that he was done and needed to be replaced. He is a smart quarterback with a strong and accurate arm, but like most pocket passers he needs to be protected. No, he's not mobile. That's not a flaw, it's who he is. He actually had some nice throws on rollouts in this game. But given just a little bit more time than usual, especially in the first half, it's pretty clear what he can still do.
- Barkley had his best game as a pro, considering what he did as both a runner (17-82-1) and as a receiver (5-35, including a huge catch for a first down on the Giants' only scoring drive of the second half). The beauty of Barkley, though, isn't in the big, flashy runs or the big numbers. The beauty is in how he got some of those runs and numbers. Take his 15-yard touchdown run on the opening drive. He got to the line of scrimmage and there was no hole. So he stopped and waited a fraction of a second and, lo and behold, a small one opened up. He darted through it and then beat a tackle in the secondary to score. Most running backs just hit the line and get stopped on that play. His hesitation allowed LG Patrick Omameh to move Texans LB Zack Cunningham out of the way, and Wheeler held up DE Christian Covington just enough for Barkley to squeeze through.
- There was a good case to be made that the absence of CB Eli Apple (groin) was going to be huge for the Giants in this game, considering the Texans had a dangerous duo of receivers in DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. Those two put up good numbers, especially in the second half. Hopkins had six catches for 86 yards and Fuller was 5-101-1. But they were really quiet early and rarely got loose for a big play. All in all, not a bad job by Janoris Jenkins and Apple's replacement, B.W. Webb.
- After TE Evan Engram went out with a knee injury, the Giants figured to move away from the tight end in their passing game. But Rhett Ellison can catch a little too and made a nice catch on an Engram-like route up the seam for a 16-yard touchdown in the second quarter. The throw was an absolute dart by Manning. Ellison finished with three catches for 39 yards.
- Interesting decision by the Texans to try and test the Giants' defensive line by running up the middle so often. First of all, Damon Harrison is one of the best run-stoppers in the league. But with Dalvin Tomlinson and rookie B.J. Hill flanking him, the Giants' front has been pretty good this season. The Texans gained 59 yards on the ground, and 36 of those came from QB DeShaun Watson. Running to the outside would've seemed to be the smarter play.
- Giants DE Kerry Wynn, who is known for being a preseason sensation, had his finest regular season game in a while, with a forced fumble a pass deflection and plenty of pressure on Watson. The Giants pass rush was erratic, but it came up big in spots - like when Wynn flushed Watson from the pocket in the fourth quarter, forcing a bad pass that turned into an interception by linebacker Alec Ogletree in the end zone.
- The 27 points were nice, but the Giants still haven't scored 30 in a game since Jan. 3, 2016 - the final game of the 2015 season and the last game of the Tom Coughlin Era. They have only scored 27 or more five times in the 35 games since. In fact, they only did it once all of last year.