It's going to be easy to bash Eli Manning again after this loss, and there'll be plenty of legitimate reason for that. The Giants' offense stinks and no doubt he missed a few opportunities.
But I really don't understand how anyone can watch the Giants' offensive line and not see that it's the biggest problem the Giants' offense has.
Manning was sacked four times in the Giants' deceptively close, 23-20 loss in Atlanta on Monday night, putting him on pace to be sacked 55 times this season. He was rushed on countless other throws in the game, too. And it's not like the run blocking is much better. Saquon Barkley, for all his amazing ability, only had 43 rushing yards
Yes, if Manning had the mobility of a Patrick Mahomes, maybe this all could be different. But he's not a mobile quarterback. That fact hasn't changed during his 15-year career. It's not suddenly going to change at age 37.
So they need to protect him, and they're just not doing it. Left tackle Nate Solder has not lived up to his $62 million contract, and right tackle Chad Wheeler shows far too often why he struggled to beat out Ereck Flowers. And it's not just the tackles. The pressure is coming up the middle too. And it's no wonder, considering Spencer Pulley is the fourth center they've used since the start of the summer, and former third-string center John Greco is now the starting right guard.
Sure, Manning -- who was 27 of 38 for 399 yards, by the way -- should get plenty of the blame for this offensive mess, and not just because he's the quarterback. It's because he makes some strange decisions and sometimes he does miss wide open receivers. We'll get to that. But keep in mind he has to be shell-shocked with the pressure coming from everywhere and constantly. If he's rushing a throw because he's assuming he's going to be hit, more often than not he's right.
The Giants' offense just isn't going to be any good again until this line is completely overhauled.
Here are a few more takeaways from the Giants' 23-20 loss.
- Before we get to anything else, I'm sure there's some deep analytical reason for why Pat Shurmur went for two when the Giants pulled within 20-12 on a Saquon Barkley touchdown with 4:47 remaining. But unless the basic principles of math have changed, that's just a terrible decision. The Giants aren't good enough on offense to count on a two-point conversion, no matter what the percentages say. Take the extra point and hope a touchdown and extra point later ties it. Doing anything else is just a brain freeze.
- Praising anything about the offense seems silly about this mess, but nice job by Odell Beckham (8 catches, 143 yards and a touchdown) and Sterling Shepard (5-167) doing something most of the receivers have failed to do this season -- they took short passes and turned them into medium and big gains. Not every big play has to be down field, and Beckham and Shepard both proved that.
- So much for committing to the run. I realize it wasn't working, but only 14 carries for Barkley? That doesn't even give him a chance to break off a big run.
- What a strange series of plays early in the third quarter, after Manning -- of all people -- ran seven yards down to the Falcons 1. That's usually where good teams just power it in from there, right? But clearly Giants coach Pat Shurmur is afraid of his offensive line. On third and goal from the 1 he runs a jet sweep to Barkley -- basically a stretch run to the outside. It of course doesn't work. Then on fourth and goal he calls for a rollout pass that ends up being broken up. He moved the play away from his line both times.
- On that fourth-down play, Manning made a terrible decision to throw back across his body (slightly) to well-covered TE Scott Simonson at the goal line. ESPN didn't show a great replay, but it appeared TE Evan Engram was breaking open to the right and Odell Beckham was open almost as soon as the play started. How do we know? Because ESPN cameras caught a frustrated Shurmur screaming "Throw it to Odell" after the play.
- Manning sometimes gets a bad rap. On the Giants' final drive of the first half, he had a second-down play where it appeared he missed Odell Beckham in the corner of the end zone. So blame Manning, right? Maybe. But it sure looked like Manning threw it to a spot in the end zone where Beckham was supposed to be -- where he would've been if he came out of his cut a little earlier. So maybe it was Beckham's fault? Or a miscommunication?
- Sometimes, though, it really is Manning's fault. On the next play, his offensive line gave him a ton of time and there were at least two open receivers -- one to his left and one in the back of the end zone (it was hard to tell who they were on TV). But Manning held the ball and took the sack instead, forcing the Giants to settle for a field goal.
- The Giants' depleted secondary creates some problems for defensive coordinator James Bettcher, and that was pretty clear on the Falcons' opening touchdown -- a 47-yard strike from Matt Ryan to Marvin Hall. Bettcher brought S Landon Collins to the line of scrimmage, but S Curtis Riley made the wrong read and bit on an underneath route leaving CB Janoris Jenkins all alone with Hall. Jenkins unfortunately turned his head the wrong direction, which allowed Hall to get a step on him and he had no deep help.
- The Giants got a very strong performance from their defensive line, which got a lot of early pressure on Ryan. Bettcher is clearly able to do more with his defense now that Olivier Vernon is healthy. He's also really using a nice rotation up front, where he got early sacks from both DE Kerry Wynn and rookie LB Lorenzo Carter.
- One Shurmur play I kind of liked -- an early end-around to TE Evan Engram that went for 10 yards. I can't remember ever seeing an end around run to a tight end, but Engram certainly has the speed for it. And it had a twist in that he didn't take it all the way around the outside, he cut it up field just off tackle, with TE Rhett Ellison leading the way.