EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Giants spent the summer dreaming about what a healthy Odell Beckham could do for their offense when paired with Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard and a revived Eli Manning.
But it looks like the fix to their offensive problems isn't going to be as quick as they hoped.
The Giants' offense was surprisingly ugly in its debut under new coach Pat Shurmur on Sunday. They racked up just 324 yards -- 68 of which came on one Barkley run -- and one touchdown (Barkley) in a 20-15 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. And the problems were familiar: Too much pressure on the quarterback. An inability to run. And constant struggles along the offensive line.
That was actually evident right from the start in an opening series that couldn't have gone worse. Much-maligned right tackle Ereck Flowers was called for a tripping penalty on the opening play. On the second play, Barkley was hammered at the line of scrimmage. On the third, Flowers got called for a hold negating a 35-yard pass to Engram -- and very nearly in the end zone, which would've been a safety.
And on the fourth play, Barkley was hit for a 3-yard loss and is about an inch away from a safety.
It got better, but not much. Manning started off 10 for 10, but for only 100 yards - unable to get a clean shot deep, and unable to free up his playmakers because he didn't have a lot of time in the pocket. He finished 23 of 37 for 224 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. Beckham's return was successful, but uneventful, as he caught 11 passes for 111 yards. And Barkley's debut was good (18 catches, 106 yards)- but that was really all about one play -- a 68-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
In fairness, the Jaguars had the second-best defense in the NFL last season and likely has one of the best in the league again, so this was never going to be easy. But with all the Giants weapons, they expected to be able to have at least mild success against anyone they face this season. They are theoretically loaded with play-makers, after all.
Instead, it remains a work in progress. And just how much better it's going to get may depend on whether they ever see actual improvement out of their offensive line.
Some other thoughts and observations from the Giants' opening-day loss:
- No one had any doubt why the Giants drafted Saquon, but his 68-yard touchdown run was a good reminder. Three Jaguars had a chance to get him before he hit the line of scrimmage. Another got him on the sidelines, but couldn't nudge him out of bounds. He has amazing strength and balance and is always a home run threat.
- It's hard to overstate what a problem Flowers is at right tackle, and how glaring that is since the Giants have only one backup tackle on their roster -- Chad Wheeler. Flowers was also a key player in Manning's pick-6. He completely whiffed on DE Yannick Ngokue, forcing Manning to step up in the pocket, where his pass was deflected into the interception. Manning is constantly adjusting off of Flowers' mistakes.
- The Giants' defense was good overall, but couldn't generate much of a pass rush at all with Olivier Vernon out with an ankle injury -- which really wasn't really much of a surprise, considering he was their best pass rusher most of the summer. It was a disappointment, though. All that summer talk about how aggressive new defensive coordinator James Bettcher's scheme was going to be, and that never really materialized. The Jaguars aren't overloaded with weapons in the passing game. More blitzing would've made a lot of sense, especially after Leonard Fournette went out with a hamstring injury in the first half. They could've taken a few more chances.
- On the second play of the game, Jaguars WR Keelan Cole burned Giants CB Janoris Jenkins for a 31-yard catch. That was really the last time the Giants' corners were burned, though. Jenkins, who later had an interception, and Eli Apple were terrific in coverage most of the game. Granted, the Jags don't have a strong receiving corps and the bigger issue with the Giants' corners is depth anyway. But it was still a strong start for the two starters.
- It's hard to get a great read on Manning's performance -- and whether Shurmur and GM Dave Gettleman were right about him -- based on this game. He was efficient underneath when he had time, and shaky when he didn't. He took his deep shots, but there were issues -- too much pressure on some, a few that resulted in pass interference calls. Overall, with all the weapons at his disposal, he's got to find a way to be better. The offensive line is a problem, but at least he should be used to that.
- He didn't come through with the big play, but there's no doubt now that Odell Beckham is back and healthy. He had those 11 catches, but he was also Manning's go-to guy as usual on their final drive, catching two passes for 40 yards. If only Manning had gone to him on the final play instead of going to a well-covered Sterling Shepard.
- TE Evan Engram is going to be a big factor this season, and may be the Giants' most underrated and overlooked weapon. Yes, he only had two catches for 18 yards on Sunday. But remember, he had a 35-yard catch on the first series called back on a penalty, and he made another big catch later when he got called for interference for pushing off. With all the attention on Beckham and Barkley, Manning is going to find Engram for some big plays.
- Barkley caught his first pass on the last play of the third quarter and turned a short throw into an 18-yard gain. He had only been targeted two times before that. Given all the talk about his dual-threat ability it was stunning the Giants didn't use him as a receiver more than they did in this game.
- Remember when the Giants gave veteran running back Jonathan Stewart a two-year, $6.9 million contract? After his terrible summer he was relegated to third string behind Barkley and Wayne Gallman. He didn't get in to the game until Gallman left with a knee injury. He finished with two carries for eight yards. It's getting harder and harder to argue that, at age 31, Stewart isn't just done.