EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The critics of Eli Manning have been relentless over the last month, convinced that he's primarily - if not solely -- to blame for the Giants' mess.
It's understandable too, since the Giants pinned their entire offseason plan on their belief that Manning was still an elite quarterback. Instead, he's looked old. The offense he runs has been terrible. He looks skittish in the pocket and checks down too much. His lack of mobility is more of an issue than it's ever been, and he hasn't been successful even when he's had time to throw down the field.
But if you think the Giants' latest disastrous season is all about Eli Manning, then think again.
"I know he's the punching bag right now," Giants co-owner John Mara told reporters at the NFL owners meetings on Tuesday. "But a lot of guys need to play better when you're 1-5."
He's right, they do. And when a team that thought it would make the playoffs is 1-5, there's plenty of blame to go around:
GM Dave Gettleman
He made two crucial mistakes: 1. He looked at the roster and thought the team could compete right away, and 2. He did not rebuild the offensive line.
The first one is huge, because everything he did -- from trading two draft picks for a 27-year-old linebacker with a $10 million cap hit (Alex Ogletree), to giving a four-year, $62 million deal to a 30-year-old left tackle (Nate Solder), to giving a two-year, $6.9 million deal to 31-year-old running back Jonathan Stewart -- screams "Win now!" Same for drafting Saquon Barkley over a potential quarterback of the future.
As for the second one, he called rebuilding the line his top priority. Signing Solder was bold, and he did draft left guard Will Hernandez in the second round. But his current center and right tackle were backups when the season began, and his other free-agent signing, right guard Patrick Omameh, has been a bust. He tried. It didn't work.
The offensive line
The people who insist it's improved have a very low bar for what's acceptable. The pass blocking is still terrible. Manning is on pace to be sacked 53 times. Sure, he's immobile, but he always has been. How about actually blocking for him? And the running game, by the way, despite the brilliance of Saquon Barkley, is averaging 87.5 yards per game. That's 27th in the league. Barkley is getting hit behind the line of scrimmage more than most running backs in the league. That's the line's fault.
Odell Beckham Jr. is on pace to put up his usual fantastic numbers, but even he knows he's lacking in the impact plays he used to regularly make. Only six of his 45 catches have gone for 20 or more yards. Only two have gone for 30. The Giants actually have only five pass plays to receivers or tight ends of 30 yards or more. That's horrible.
Sure, some of it is that Manning is checking down too much. But remember the days when Beckham would take a short pass and turn it into a huge gain? What happened to that? Together, Beckham and Sterling Shepard are averaging 11.1 yards per catch. Together they have only 13 catches of 20 or more yards in six games. They have basically become possession receivers.
They know they're still allowed to break a tackle after the catch, right?
Defensive coordinator James Bettcher
Everyone on defense was so excited about his new, 3-4 scheme and how "aggressive" it was going to be. That was the buzz word all summer. The pass rush was going to be dominant again.
It was a nice thought. The Giants have seven sacks in six games and there's no excuse that can explain that. Yes, the loss of linebacker Olivier Vernon for five games was huge, but he's not Michael Strahan or J.J. Watt. The Giants probably should have gotten to double-digit sacks even without him. Kareem Martin, the free-agent signee on the other side of the line, has no sacks. Promising rookie LB Lorenzo Carter has one.
Most telling, there have been no sacks from the secondary and only one from an inside linebacker (B.J. Goodson). So much for a blitz-happy, pressure-packed defense.
Coach Pat Shurmur
The record falls on the head coach, obviously, but his part of the blame has more to do with his role as the play-caller. It's on him (and offensive coordinator Mike Shula) to make it work with a weak line and an immobile quarterback, to figure out ways to get the ball in the hands of their best playmakers in good spots. It's worked with Barkley (though they certainly should commit more to him as a runner). It hasn't worked with Beckham.
There's also a question of whether the check-downs that have annoyed so many are Manning's fault or just part of the plan. Shurmur has said his offense calls for Manning to take the deep shots when they're there, and check down when the defense is set up a certain way. Also, some of the most questionable passes that look like check-downs have been by design.
For example, look at Manning's interception on the second play of the Eagles game last Thursday, a play that looked like a check-down to tight end Scott Simonson over the middle. Manning later said Simonson was his first read. But why? On the second play of the game, part of a series that is scripted pregame, the play was designed to go to the Giants' third-string tight end, who had two previous NFL catches? Not to Barkley or Beckham or pretty much anyone else?
The game plan just has to be better than that.