EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Two years ago, former Giants coach Ben McAdoo took a lot of heat for an offensive game plan that often seemed to be 'Throw it to Odell Beckham Jr. and hope something good happens.'
It wasn't a brilliant strategy, to be sure. But at least he recognized the star receiver as the best and most explosive player on the field.
If Pat Shurmur sees that too, it hasn't been evident in his play-calling yet. And that's an odd choice as he desperately tries to kick start his offense in what is shaping up as another lost season for the Giants. Beckham, fresh off his five-year, $90 million contract extension, had yet another low-impact game, catching just seven passes for 60 yards in the Giants' 33-18 loss to the Saints.
He's put up nice numbers this season - 31 catches for 331 yards through the first four games. But the Giants didn't pay him to be nice. They are paying him to be great. They are paying to be a game-changer.
But to do that, he's got to be put in position to make game-changing plays.
That didn't happen on Sunday. He made a play on the first play of scrimmage, but that was an end-around run that he took for 10 yards. After that, he had the ball thrown in his direction five times in the first half. He caught two for minus-4 yards.
In all, he was targeted 11 times - more than anyone on the team. But that still feels like a low number considering Eli Manning threw 41 passes. Only one of those came in the red zone, where Manning threw six other passes to other people. And only two of those could really be considered "deep" shots, including one he caught with less than two minutes remaining in the game for a 16-yard gain - which really isn't that deep at all.
So where are the deep shots? Where are the big plays? Where are the red-zone plays or the throws into the end zone?
Where are the explosive, game-changing moments that turned Beckham into a $90 million man?
"I don't know," said Beckham, who hasn't scored a touchdown in four games this season. "I just have to get in there and watch the film. It's one play away still. I have been getting double and triple teamed for the past five years. Nothing has changed. Safeties over the top, linebackers dropping."
He's right, nothing has changed. That includes the "soft zone" defense that Shurmur said has taken the deep ball and Beckham's explosiveness away. For the last few years, teams have played something similar on Beckham, so it's like he's covered by an umbrella of three defenders every time he catches the ball - as if they're conceding the catch underneath (the "little catches," as Shurmur called them) to prevent the big play.
Of course, that didn't stop his previous coaches from calling his number anyway. Shurmur seems to be trying to diversify his offense, and that's not a bad thing at all. He wants to get Sterling Shepard involved (10 catches on 10 targets on Sunday), and he really wants to get Saquon Barkley going (100 total yards), especially since a versatile running back can be a dangerous receiving weapon underneath a soft zone.
But what's wrong with just throwing it to Beckham down the field or in coverage? Risky? Sure. But why not trust a player who just might be the NFL's best receiver to go and make plays. Manning has a completion percentage of 74.2, and he's thrown just one interception in four games. That's swell, but who cares? The Giants are 1-3.
Throw it to Beckham in double- and triple-coverage. Heave it to him downfield. Sometimes it'll get picked off. Sometimes he won't catch it. But it's a good bet that most of the time he will.
And that's especially true in the red zone, where Manning attempted seven passes on Sunday, completing four. You know how many went towards Beckham? None. In the third quarter, when the Giants were trailing only 19-7 and had a first-and-10 at the New Orleans 14, Manning threw three passes. He didn't look Beckham's direction on any of them. On two, he ran a decoy route, barely jogging as he got off the line.
It's no wonder Beckham looked so frustrated. It's no wonder, after the game, he said "I hate to get out there and waste those 60 minutes."
And that's exactly what this is quickly becoming - a great, big waste. If Beckham isn't going to be the centerpiece of the Giants' offense, the guy they trust in the red zone, the guy they throw it to in key situations, then it's going to lead to a waste of a season, a waste of a truckload of money, and waste of one of the last years of Manning's career. He is one of the biggest playmakers in the league. He should be used that way.
Because it really is a waste if he's not.