EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Eli Manning was hammered hard on Monday night, much like he was for most of last season. At this point, the hits are pretty much expected.
What's unexpected is that some of the biggest ones keep coming from his own head coach.
It's a bizarre strategy by Ben McAdoo, but for some reason, while choosing to go soft on most of his other players, he has made a conscious choice to come down hard his franchise quarterback. He refuses to single out others by name no matter how poor their play is, and he stubbornly backs some of his faltering players to a fault.
But when Manning isn't living up to the head coach's standards? That's when his gloves come off.
Only McAdoo knows why. Maybe he has a good reason. But if he really thinks Manning is the source of his offensive problems, he's out of his mind.
He started this odd play, though, back in March at the NFL scouting combine, when he was asked about the Giants' obvious biggest issue: Their deteriorating offensive line. He didn't call out his linemen. He didn't even issue a call for help. He said "I think Eli needs to do a better job of playing with fast feet and I think he needs to sit on that back foot in the pocket."
OK, sure. The guy taking a beating has to move faster.
Then on Monday night, while giving a free pass to struggling left tackle Ereck Flowers and going soft on the receivers who dropped passes and blew routes, McAdoo only got tough when blaming a critical delay of game penalty on "sloppy quarterback play." He even excused himself for not calling a timeout before the play clock expired, because "We have a veteran quarterback who has played a lot of football. I expected us to get the ball snapped."
His words weren't necessarily mean. They weren't even necessarily wrong. They just stood out each time because of what McAdoo didn't say about everyone else. He won't even address his own play calling. He stands firmly behind Flowers (which as Manning surely knows, is dangerous). He wasn't even strong about Brandon Marshall's terrible and ill-timed drop.
Instead, he continued his favorite theme: When something goes wrong with the offense, blame the quarterback. Never mind that Manning rarely sees a pocket until he puts on his post-game suit. Never mind that on far too many plays no receivers were open, or that several of his on-target passes were cleanly dropped.
All that gets a pass while McAdoo blames the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback - who, by the way, is the main reason McAdoo is here. The primary reason the Giants hired McAdoo to succeed Tom Coughlin was because of the success he had with Manning during his two years as offensive coordinator. The Giants owners knew Manning only had a few years left, and they didn't want to waste them with a new offense they could only hope would work.
They chose McAdoo over far more experienced candidates because of their desire to maintain an offensive status quo.
Now, Manning isn't perfect. He certainly does look like he's playing "skittish" - as Giants GM Jerry Reese once called it years ago - behind an offensive line that barely provides any protection. He has always been prone to an ill-timed interception, even if he's not the turnover machine that some others seem to think.
But McAdoo can't be this blind. Flowers was a turnstile to Detroit's Ziggy Ansah on Monday night, and guard-turned-tackle Justin Pugh was constantly pushed back on the other side of the line. When a quarterback takes a three-step drop and one second later his tackles are in his face, the problem isn't that the quarterback needs faster feet. It's the team needs better tackles.
Or perhaps the coach could call better plays. Add in some more play-action. Some more quick slants that seemed to actually work. Roll the quarterback out and let him throw on the run. Maybe boost the non-existent running game by using the fullback who got only four snaps on Monday night (which would help the pass blocking, too). Or use Shane Vereen more, since he's supposed to be a dangerous weapon. Be a little more creative to overcome some of the problems, instead of calling the quarterback out.
And if not, then at least be fair. Don't prop up the left tackle while telling the quarterback he needs to do a better job avoiding pressure. When a delay of game penalty happens, take responsibility for not calling the time out, or be a little faster getting your quarterback the play.
The only good news in this is that Manning can take it. Maybe that's why McAdoo does this. Because he knows Manning won't bark back.
"I know Coach McAdoo knows I can handle it," Manning said on WFAN on Tuesday. "That's part of playing quarterback. You have to be able to handle criticism and take coaching. You can't get sensitive on the field. You're a quarterback in the NFL, there are going to be tough times, and you have to be able to handle the fire on game day and afterward. That's just part of the deal."
Here's the real deal, though: McAdoo's offense, with Manning at the helm, has been held to fewer than 20 points for eight straight games and it's averaged 17.7 points per game in McAdoo's 19 games as a head coach. The offensive line has been atrocious at times. The receivers are unreliable, especially with Odell Beckham not at 100 percent.
And now the Giants are one loss in Philly this Sunday away from their season being pretty much over - an inexcusable waste of a $200 million defensive overhaul and a waste of yet another of their franchise quarterback's final few years.
That large mess is on the coach more than the quarterback. McAdoo seemed to get that when he opened his post-game press conference on Monday night by saying "Put this game on me."
If only he had stopped right there.